pdfVolume 8 Issue 1 CONTENTS

Migration and Urbanization in Industrializing Bulgaria 1910–1946

Penka Peykovska
Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Institute for Historical Studies
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Urbanization is among the most important demographic phenomena of the modern age. Today, half of the world’s population lives in cities, and by 2050 this share is expected to reach 70 percent. Urbanization theorists see this as a consequence of three mutually impacting processes: natural growth (population growth as a result of birth rates exceeding mortality rates), migration (mainly from the villages to cities), and reclassification (the administrative mechanism for giving urban status to former villages or urban settlements) – whose relative contribution to the urbanization process varies depending on the environment.

The processes of urbanization and internal migration in Bulgaria in 1910–1946 have not often been made the subject of rigorous study, perhaps because the scale of urbanization at the time was small and the pace slow compared to the period after World War II. At the same time, however, the first half of this period was characterized by intensive waves of refugees and immigrants (Bulgarians, Russians, and Armenians). Having in mind the lack of attention which this question has been given in the secondary literature, in this paper I examine the urbanization processes in Bulgaria at the time and the role of migration to and within the country in these processes. In particular, I monitor the significance of gender, nationality/“nationalité ethnique” in urbanization in Bulgaria and the roles of smaller and larger cities and the capital, Sofia. I rely heavily on the five censuses carried out between 1910 and 1946, which drew a distinction between local-born and non-indigenous populations, including people who had been born abroad. In other words, the data contain information on native-born people (i.e. born in the locality where they were enumerated or, as one might say “locals”), people who were enumerated in a locality different from their birthplace within the country (i.e. internal migrants, in-migrants), and people who were foreign-born (i.e. external migrants, immigrants).

Concerning the role of migration to and within the country in the urbanization process in Bulgaria, my quantitative analysis shows that urbanization in Bulgaria was influenced by migration (mainly internal migration), partly by the waves of refugees and immigrants during the war and in the interwar period, which accelerated the growth of cities. At the same time, the urbanization of small towns was due primarily to immigration. The trend towards urbanization (albeit at a slow pace) in Bulgaria was a result of the migration of the predominantly ethnic Bulgarian population from villages to cities, but the contribution of Armenian and Russian refugees was also notable.



Keywords: internal and external migration, immigration, in-migration, Bulgaria, urbanization, towns, cities, ethnicity, sex, 1910–1946

Urbanization is among the most important demographic phenomena underway today, when half of the world’s population lives in cities1 and the rapid growth of urban agglomerations which are already huge is being blamed for a number of negative phenomena (high levels of unemployment, infrastructural tensions, and environmental degradation, for instance).2 The study of urbanization as a historical process is increasingly pressing, since this process has implications for the present day, given the need to find successful mechanisms with which to address its negative effects.

Urbanization theorists see urbanization as a consequence of migration together and in interaction with natural population growth (which occurs as a result of birth rates exceeding mortality rates) and a process of reclassification (the administrative mechanism for giving urban status to former villages or surrounding settlements), the relative contribution to urbanization of which depends on the economic and social background.3 Migration within the country from rural to urban areas directly contributes to urbanization by causing a decline in rural populations and growth in urban ones. Furthermore, some cities attract significant numbers of immigrants from abroad, which also leads to an increase in the urban population.4 A transition to urban lifestyles and settlement patterns is also a consequence of economic modernization, industrialization, and changes in the demographic makeup of the population.

In the period under examination here, Bulgaria experienced relatively rapid demographic growth in spite of the Balkan Wars, First World War, and the accompanying loss of life. This growth was due not simply to a common trend in postwar population growth, but also to the immense inflow of refugees and immigrants5 generated by armed conflicts beginning in the second decade of the twentieth century, namely the Balkan Wars and World War I, not to mention the 1917 revolution and civil war in Russia, the Aster Revolution in Hungary, the Greek-Turkish war of 1919–1922, and subsequent events. By 1925, some 200,000 people had come into Bulgaria as immigrants. Most were of Bulgarian ethnic origin, but there were also 20,000 Russians and 15,000 Armenians among them. The population increased also because of higher birth rates in Bulgaria following the first demographic transition.6 The country was rural, and four fifths of its population were peasants. The majority of landowners had relatively small holdings. Bulgaria had an agriculture-centered development strategy, which, however, did not exclude industrialization. Economic modernization happened in agriculture and livestock breeding, which accounted for half of the GDP. The country crossed the threshold of industrialization in the late 1930s.7 Between 1926 and 1934, there were 97 rural towns (most of which were small) with populations under 10,000 (Table 2). Sofia saw the highest growth rate. Other rapidly-developing cities included Plovdiv, Varna, Burgas, and Ruse. The proportion of the urban population rose by 5.6 percent between 1910 and 1946. So, concerning the interrelated processes of internal migration, urbanization, and industrialization, there was some development, but it was rather slow, which explains why this development has been seen by some researchers more as stagnation than as any kind of progress.

In this essay, I examine the role of migration in Bulgaria’s urbanization during the period preceding accelerated industrialization. At that time, the importance of internal migration and immigration in the numerical growth of urban populations in Bulgaria increased – although immigration including refugees was significantly smaller than in-migration, and it continued more intensively only until 1926 (Table 3). (Here we would like to give a terminological clarification: unlike in our era when the “refugee” and the “immigrant” are separate categories,8 in the examined period refugees were usually considered immigrants.) There was a total of 217,328 in-migrants within the country in 1910 and 354,187 in 1926 (figures which greatly exceeded the number of immigrants into the country). So, there were 59,706 immigrants in 1910 and 166,761 in 1926 (their relative share in towns/cities was larger than in the villages). More than one third of the in-migrants and about half of the immigrants were predominantly directed to the big towns and cities, i.e. settlements with populations over 10,000. According to the data, in 1910, 89 percent of the immigrants (53,067 people) and 77 percent of the in-migrants (167,437 people) were encouraged to go to urban settlements, and in 1926, their figures were 80 percent (129,214 people) of immigrants and 77.5 percent (282,079 people) of in-migrants. Until 1926, the general trend was towards increases in the number of immigrants and in-migrants targeting the towns/cities.


Table 1. Number of towns/cities in Bulgaria according to the classification used in the population censuses, 1910–1946

Towns/cities with population






Up to 10,000 people






Above 10,000 people






Above 20,000 people






Above 50,000 people






Above 100,000 people












Earlier Findings, Data Sources, and Methods

Scholars have shown little interest in urbanization in Bulgaria and its interaction with (internal and external) migration processes during the period under examination. This may be the case in part because, at this initial stage (which started with the founding of the Third Bulgarian State in 1878 and ended in the late 1940s), the relative share of the urban population was growing slowly and the urban way of life was spreading slowly.9 Faster-paced, dynamic urbanization took place in the second half of the twentieth century. It accelerated under centrally planned economic development, as a result of which urban populations grew sharply. At the end of the 1960s, urban settlements accounted for more than fifty percent of the population, which was increasingly concentrated in the administrative centers.10

Some researchers on migratory and urbanization processes in Bulgaria have claimed that after 1880 (up to 1934, for example) there was a “progressive urbanization trend.” They have tended to support their theses with indicators such as the steadily increasing number and the growing relative share of the urban population.11 Other authors have contended that migration growth (i.e. the difference between the in-migrants and out-migrants, calculated on the basis of population censuses, which are, however, rather “rough” measurements) should be understood as an indicator of urbanization processes in Bulgaria.12 They have found that migration growth is always to the benefit of towns and cities. It leads to rises in the urban population and drops in rural populations.13 In the case of Bulgaria, the phenomenon was reflected by the 1905 census, after the Ilinden-Preobrazhenie Uprising (1903) and, then, in the first half of the 1920s.


Table 2. Migration growth of urban population in Bulgaria, in ‰14


For the urban

For the rural






















Some scholars have supposed that the urbanization process was “decreasing” in the interwar period, and they explain this with the impact of territorial changes resulting from the Balkan Wars and World War I on the settlement system and the urban-rural population ratio.15 According to the Treaty of Bucharest and the Treaty of Neuilly-sur-Seine, eight towns16 were separated from Bulgaria (from Southern Dobrudja and the Western Outskirts) and transferred to Romania and the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes and another 1717 were added to the country through the newly acquired lands. However, urbanization was declining, because among the latter mentioned settlements, most were less economically developed towns, and their minority Turkish and Muslim populations were prone to emigration.18

Since the development of urbanization in Bulgaria between 1910 and 1946 has only rarely been made the subject of study and at the same time this period (and especially its first half) was characterized by intensive refugee and immigrant inflows of Bulgarians, Russians, and Armenians and the emigration of the local Greeks and Turks (under the bilateral agreements with Greece and Turkey for population exchange), I have devoted this inquiry to the role of migration in the urbanization process. The quantitative analysis, on the basis of which I have examined the interaction between migration and urbanization phenomena and processes, is itself based on data concerning the urban (and rural) populations in the Bulgarian censuses done in 1910, 1920, 1926, 1934, and 1946. We have turned to this type of source because of the lack of other statistics for the period in question. At that time, only a few countries were collecting statistics which provide an adequate basis for a thorough assessment of urbanization. For this reason indirect methods have commonly been used to calculate the components of the increase in the pace of urbanization based on census data.19 Often such studies are based on data concerning birthplace, and they apply different research approaches.

In our particular case, we have used the statistical data for the urban (and rural) populations recorded in correlation with the birthplace of the native-born (born in Bulgaria) population (for those born in a settlement other than the place of enumeration, i.e. for the in-migrants) and the foreign-born population (i.e. immigrants). Data for in-migrants provide information about origins within the country (i.e. another district within a given county, another county, or another locality in the country), and data for immigrants reflect origins by countries. This means that the statistical information “covers” the number of in-migrants at a given time point, not counting mortality, and refers only to the first generation of in-migrants (as opposed to the US censuses, for instance, which also collected information concerning geographical family origins for subsequent generations of families). In the case of statistical information concerning people who had been born outside of the country, this information did not in any way address the ways in which immigrants to Bulgaria moved (migrated) within the country after having entered the country. Most immigrants to Bulgaria, however, were very mobile for a time after having entered the country and did not immediately settle down. When trying to establish the contribution of internal migration to urbanization, the most important direction of this migration is from village to town/city. However, from the point of view of the migration and concerning the de facto population, in principle the Bulgarian censuses of 1910, 1920 and 1926 contain information on migration to towns/cities without reference to the settlements of departure (i.e. whether the settlement from which a migrant to a town/city came was a village or another town/city). Thus, this kind of database includes data on inter-town/city migrations too. In this specific case, there were significant patterns of migration from small urban centers to big urban centers. In the Bulgarian censuses there is evidence of population movement from villages to towns/cities only concerning the economically active population and not the total population. Only the 1934 census provides statistical information on migration in the direction of village–town/city. In the 1946 census, a very different methodology was used, which is why this census is practically incomparable with the previous censuses, at least from the perspective of the data they contain concerning the directions of migration.

We have tracked some of the processes for different subperiods (and not for the entire period under examination). This is because we do not have the relevant data due to the different methodologies according to statistical information was aggregated in 1934 and 1946.

We have based our quantitative analysis on some of the more important theoretical frameworks in today’s understanding of urbanization. Our choices of specific indicators were determined by these theoretical frameworks. Nowadays, demographers define urbanization as the growth in the proportion of the population living in urban areas.20 It is worth noting that this is not only a question of proportional growth, because urbanization does not simply mean growth in urban populations. It also comprises growth in the relative share of the urban population. In other words, if urban and rural populations grow at the same pace, this should not be understood as urbanization. Urban population growth is considered to be entirely the result of urbanization if the total population does not change but the relative share of urban population is increasing; then, the degree of urbanization (the degree of population growth in urban areas) is equal to the growth rate of the urban population.21 However, in most urbanizing countries, including Bulgaria, during the period in question, the total population was growing, and it is possible to distinguish the proportion of urban population growth resulting from urbanization from the proportion resulting from overall population growth (the latter is roughly equal to the degree of urbanization plus the rate of total population growth).

Using these definitions, in measuring processes and phenomena, we have proceeded from the standpoint that urbanization is present when the urban population growth rate exceeds the rural population growth, and we have used this indicator as the main one, measured as the percentage of the total urban or rural population, for the population of the small and big towns/cities,22 for the capital, and for the separate ethnic groups in Bulgaria. Our intention was to determine the contribution of the small and big towns/cities and the capital to urbanization in Bulgaria and also to consider differences in the makeup of urbanizing populations from the perspectives of sex and ethnicity. The final part of the text is devoted to the interrelationships among migration, urbanization, and industrialization and to some of the changes in the urban space. In order better to corroborate the trends we have identified, we have also monitored other indicators, such as the volume of migration and the number of in-migrants and immigrants-refugees per 1,000 locals. Of course, we are aware of the general nature of quantitative parameters and the presence of certain micro-processes and background processes which cannot be numerically measured, because urbanization is indeed primarily a result of migration, and it is reasonable to treat it as such. However, urbanization is not just a consequence of migration from village to city, especially if this migration is perceived as long-term or permanent resettlement. Firstly, urbanization is the net result of complex migratory movements between rural and urban areas, including circular migration back and forth. Actually, migration from village to town/city may be a result of people delaying their return or not returning to rural areas as they decide to remain in the city in which they have settled. Secondly, urbanization involves both the net movement of people to and within urban areas, the progressive expansion of urban boundaries, and the creation of new urban centers. As already mentioned, in principle, urbanization can also be accelerated by higher natural population growth in urban areas and particularly high еmigration from rural areas, although these factors are not considered very substantial.

Before undertaking the quantitative analysis, we would like to note that during the period in question, there were no legislative restrictions on population crowding in the cities. Administrative measures to limit migration were first introduced for the capital city of Sofia in 1943.

The Contributions of Migration to Urbanization

We start examining the growth of Bulgaria’s urban population as a percentage compared to the growth of the rural population, which is influenced by migration (mechanical growth) and natural growth (and perhaps reclassification of settlements).23 In the period from 1910 to 1946, the population of the country grew from 4 million to 7 million. Both urban and rural populations grew, but the share of the urban population increased from 19.1 percent in 1910 to 24.7 percent in 1946. This was due both to natural growth and to mechanical movement. The change in the proportions of the urban and rural populations was not as sharp as it was in the second half of the twentieth century, but it was smooth. Over the course of 36 years, the urban population more than doubled (+111.4 percent), while the rural population increased only by about half (+58.6 percent), so although the rural population grew in absolute terms, its relative share declined from 80.9 percent in 1910 to 75.3 percent in 194624 (and this growth in the relative share of the urban population was much greater than that in the years preceding World War I25). The greatest increase in the urban population as a proportion of the total population took place in 1911–1926 (+36 percent), then in 1927–1934 it was +15 percent and in 1935–1946 it was +33 percent.

For the period between 1910 and 1926, statistics indicate a significant difference in population growth in small and big towns/cities, i.e. in the towns/cities with populations up to 10,000 inhabitants on the one hand and over 10,000 inhabitants on the other. Table 3 shows that population growth in the big towns/cities outstripped growth in the small ones, but the determining factor in this process was the enormous growth of the capital city. If Sofia is excluded, population growth in small towns surpassed (albeit not by much) population growth in big towns, and the proportional growth of the urban population in Bulgaria up to 1926 was mainly due to the increase in the population of the capital, which more than doubled.


Table 3. Growth of the population in absolute terms in small and big towns, Sofia, and villages, 1910–192626


Growth in


Growth in

Population in








Small towns








Big towns/cities, including Sofia








Big towns/cities, without Sofia
























We seek in our inquiry to determine the extent to which urbanization was influenced by migration in general (meaning both within the country and across its borders) and, within this, the extent to which it was influenced by in-migration on the one hand and immigration and emigration on the other. We establish the relative share of the increase in the number of in-migrants and immigrants in the towns/cities in relation to the increase in the urban population (for the territory of the country in the respective census year) based on the abovementioned birthplace data. Here, in the context of what has already been said about the specifics of this kind of statistical information on migration to towns/cities, we would like to point out again that migration to urban areas includes not only migrants coming from villages but also migrants coming from other towns/cities.27 Inter-town/city migration, and in particular migration from small towns/cities to big towns/cities, was not terribly large and did not affect major trends. In 1911–1926, total urban increase as a share of migration was 81 percent, and in 1927–1934 it was 61 percent. Generally speaking, during the period in question, urbanization in Bulgaria was mainly due to migration, and mainly to internal migration, representing 56 percent of the total migration growth in 1911–1926, despite the intense refugee inflows of Bulgarians, Russians, and Armenians as a consequence of the wars, and almost entirely to internal migration in 1927–1934, when external migration was declining (Table 2).

The 1934 census data, which took into account migration from villages to towns/cities, confirms this conclusion. We have analyzed a variety of data concerning in-migrants who moved from villages to towns/cities and concerning immigrants and refugees who came from foreign countries and settled in towns/cities in Bulgaria, because the mobility of immigrants within Bulgaria is not quantitatively known. There were almost twice as many in-migrants who moved from villages to towns/cities as there were immigrants to Bulgaria who settled in towns/cities. They constituted 64 percent of the people who settled in towns/cities (Table 1).

The rise in the number of in-migrants to towns/cities and the rise in the number of refugees and immigrants to towns/cities (per 1000 local people28) correspond to the abovementioned trends. In 1911–1934, the number of in-migrants who moved from villages to towns/cities was steadily growing, more than doubling and reaching almost half a million. Their number per 1,000 locals was gradually increasing too, in the first half of the 1920s much more significantly (reaching 402 in-migrants per 1,000 locals in 1934). This proportional increase was particularly significant in the first half of the 1920s. By 1934, in-migrants constituted almost one-third of the local population in the towns/cities of Bulgaria.29 The number of refugees and immigrants was one third or one fourth that of in-migrants to urban communities. The number of immigrants was twice to three times smaller than that of the internal migrants, and it was growing to the mid-1920s as a result of refugee flows. These refugee flows stopped, however, and in 1934 the proportion of foreigners from the population became lower (233 foreign-born per 1,000 locals) (Table 5).


Table 4. Number of in-migrants and immigrants/refugees among urban and rural de facto population, 1910–193430




Local population*



population of Bulgaria


















































* Population born in the locality where it was enumerated during the census.


Table 5. Intensity of in-migrants and immigrants/refugees to the locals* among urban and rural de facto population, in ‰, 1910–193431






























* Population born in the locality where it was enumerated during the census.

The Contributions of Sexes

During the period in question, a common gender characteristic of migration to towns/cities was that the majority of migrants were men,32 as opposed to the period after World War II, when predominantly women set off for urban areas.33 However, if one examines the data concerning numerical growth of migrants to towns/cities in 1911–1934, it becomes evident that this phenomenon concerned both sexes, but it was higher for women: +91 percent for male in-migrants and +138 percent for female ones, and +131 percent for male immigrants and +228 percent for female ones, bearing in mind that at the same time the number of in-migrants was twice or three times the number of immigrants. In this case, the historical and cultural background played an important role in determining the extent to which women had opportunities to migrate independently of men. The Bulgarian model of economic development at the time, however, also influenced the sex composition of the in-migration flow. Preferring to employ men, the urban occupation structures seem to be the main factor in setting limits for female migration to towns/cities. As we shall see, later the large number of (unmarried) women migrating towards the towns/cities was linked to employment opportunities, especially in the sector of “domestic service.”

The final result was a numerical preponderance of men in the cities in the mid-1920s, where, unlike in the villages, there was the usual demographic phenomenon of women outnumbering men because of longer life expectancies. (Here, however, I would like to note that before the wars, compared to the other countries, Bulgaria was distinguished by predominantly male populations in both cities and villages, and by the mid-1930s, the two sexes had gradually come to constitute roughly half of the population each, Table 6). In order to identify the source of male preponderance in towns/cities, we have used as an indicator the number of females per 1,000 males in the variations of the native-born and foreign-born urban populations. Within the native-born populations, we see the usual situation: women outnumbered men. But in the case of migrants, we find precisely the opposite. At first glance, the related data show a preponderance of men, and men were particularly numerous among refugees and immigrants having in mind that among Bulgarians there was more balance, because they lived predominantly as families. This was also true for the third-largest but still a dozen times smaller refugee stream of Armenians. The Russians, second in number but also dozens of times fewer, (being soldiers) were distinguished as a male refugee and immigrant flow. But this contribution of external migrants to urbanization is only seeming, since they were in principle half as many as in-migrants. So, in this case, the men who predominated in the in-migration flow to the cities were the determinants (Table 6).


Table 6. Number of females per 1000 males among urban and rural population in Bulgaria, 1910–193434






Refugees and immigrants


From the refugees and immigrants
































* Population born in the locality where it was counted during the census.

The Contributions of the Ethnicities

The migration towards towns/cities among the native-born population of Bulgarian ethnicity was decisive for the process of urbanization, although the relative share of the urban population within its variation was very low, because being numerically dominant, it had an ascending trend (Table 7). However, we were curious to consider the contributions to urbanization of other ethnic groups recorded in the statistics. In understanding the analysis that follows, it should be taken into consideration that behind the high rates of growth there was a small number of migrants.

By volume, the resettlements in towns/cities prevailed among the indigenous, comparatively small ethnic groups, such as Armenians and Jews, with a tendency to increase between 1910 and 1926. However, they had come into being and existed as urban diasporas. In 1910, 96 percent of local Jews and 88 percent of local Armenians lived in towns/cities. This phenomenon is related to their occupations. Over half (54 percent) of the economically active Armenians were employed in industry (mostly in clothing and footwear production), and over half (52 percent) of the economically active Jews were traders (dealing with sales of clothing and footwear, food and beverages, foreign exchange, commissions and exports). Another 36 percent of the latter worked in industry (in the production of either clothing and footwear or beverage). Among the Armenians and Jews, the main direction of in-migration was from small to big towns/cities. They were concentrated in the big towns and cities, where their resettlements (compared to the local Jewish and Armenian population) were distinguished by their high number per 1000 locals, and therefore this movement did not contribute to urbanization understood as the movement of in-migrants from villages to towns/cities. In 1911–1926, among Armenians, quantitatively small in-migration can be observed in the opposite, town/city-to-village direction. The very high number of resettled people per 1000 locals within the Armenian rural population shows that their rural diaspora was at that time a relatively new phenomenon. A similar process can also be observed among the Jews in 1926. Hence, although among the local Armenians and Jews the relative share of resettlements to the towns/cities increased (among the Jews +46 percent and among the Armenians +41 percent) compared to their migration to villages, not they, but the Armenian refugee wave from the first half of the 1920s constituted the most significant contribution to urbanization in Bulgaria with their urban resettlements’ impressive growth of +246 percent.

Table 8 shows that among the different ethnic groups it was the rural population that predominated within the set of native-born people, except for the Jews, Armenians and Greeks. According to the 1926 census data for the foreign-born (i.e. the new refugees and immigrants), the Armenians, Bulgarians, Jews, and Russians were mainly targeting towns/cities with an upward trend. The Greek diaspora showed an interesting demographic trend for the period 1911–1926. Among the native-born Greeks, the urban population increased by more than 20 percent, and among the foreign-born Greeks, it decreased by five percent (although it was predominant there) (Table 7); the reason for this was their nearly total exodus35 as a result of the Greek-Bulgarian Convention on Voluntary Population Exchange of 27 November 1919. In 1910, about 91 percent of the total urban Greek diaspora lived in the towns of Kavakli (Topolovgrad), Stanimaka (Asenovgrad), Varna, Sozopol, Burgas, Anhialo (Pomorie), Mesemvria (Nesebar), and Plovdiv. It is obvious that after the wars, the local Greek population was increasingly concentrated in the towns/cities, and the displacements themselves took place first among immigrants. In their place, Bulgarian refugees were resettled. The native-born ethnic Turks were distinguished by a small urban diaspora, whereas foreign-born Turks concentrated in cities; in both variations there was a downward trend in migration of ethnic Turks to towns/cities; the drop was perceptibly lower among immigrants. Displacements which intensified during the wars and continued afterwards contributed to this, but they were not the only factor. The Turkish population started leaving towns/cities and resettling in villages, as evidenced by the rise in their numbers as a percentage of the populations in villages (Table 7 and 8). In the case of the Romanians and Tartars, there was a decrease in the urban population (in terms of number and relative share) compared to 1910 for both the native-born and foreign-born, but this was largely due to the cessation of Southern Dobrudja to Romania. Among the minority diasporas in Bulgaria, only the Russians turned from a rural community into urban one. This took place because of the tendency among new Russian refugees and immigrants to settle almost exclusively in the towns/cities. This caused an extraordinary increase in their urban population of +2009 percent (Table 7). Hoping to return to their home country soon, they did not accept Bulgarian citizenship, and so by law they had no right to receive agricultural land (this explains their low share in rural areas), unlike refugees of Bulgarian ethnic origin.


Table 7. Relative share of the urban population in Bulgaria among the different ethnic groups in correlation with native- and foreign-born (i.e. for the old and the new diasporas), de facto population, 1910, 192636

“nationality/natoinalité ethnique”




















































Table 8. Increase/decrease in the number of in-migrants and immigrants/refugees among the urban and rural population of different ethnic groups in Bulgaria 1910–1926, in %37

“nationality/natoinalité ethnique”










































– 90












The Contribution of the Small and Big Towns/Cities

Before considering the question referred to in the subtitle, we will try to explain the changes in the data concerning the native-born population, which may seem obvious at first glance. These changes are important because they influenced the formation of the indicator of migrants’ number per 1,000 locals, and since the analysis of the origin of these changes is a sign of whether it is a source of out-migration or emigration, and because of the dynamics of the urbanization itself. In the period from 1910 to 1926, the number of native-born population in Bulgaria decreased sharply in both small and big towns/cities (excluding Sofia). In small towns/cities, it decreased almost twice as much as it did in big ones (it doubled only in Sofia). It is interesting to see how much this phenomenon was due to migrations. We have tracked it at the settlement level and we have found out that in 1926 in 18 of the 26 big towns and cities the native-born population grew, and in some cases it grew considerably (in Burgas it doubled and in Plovdiv it grew by one third). In the remaining 8 big towns,38 it decreased from several hundred to not more than 1,500. In the case of big towns/cities, three-quarters of the reduction was a result of the secession of the three major towns in Southern Dobrudja after the Balkan wars (Silistra, Tutrakan, and Dobrich). The remaining loss was mainly due to the displacement of the Greeks from Burgas, Varna, Plovdiv, and Stanimaka and to a very small extent, due to mortality and other displacements. In the case of small towns, the decline of the native-born population by half was due to the secession of the five cities with the Treaty of Neuilly (Balchik, Kavarna, Bosilegrad, Tsaribrod, and Strumitsa). It also partly diminished because of the expulsion of the Greeks.39 This loss was not compensated by the 17 towns in the newly acquired territories and the reclassification (i.e. new settlements which were declared towns), probably owing to the in-migration and out-migration from the small to big towns/cities.

The loss of local urban population as a result of the secession of cities (both small and large) and as a result of the territorial losses from the wars was not only simply compensated in the period between 1926 and 1934 by still high birth rates due to intense external and internal migration (the latter of which was significantly larger), but as early as 1934 the pre-war number of the native-born population had been exceeded. That is why we can conclude that the secession of the towns/cities as a result of the wars lost by Bulgaria really had a negative impact on the urbanization of the country, and if that had not happened, the urbanization process would have been much stronger. However, it can not be denied that it was intense and intensifying and quantitatively managed to overcome the loss of the native-born urban population in less than ten years. In this sense, we cannot speak about its stagnation or lagging behind. It simply evolved in the context of changed territorial conditions.

The census statistics make it possible to identify the urbanization centers in Bulgaria, which coincide with the destination points of migration flows. Towns/cities differ in their socio-economic characteristics, so they have different attractive opportunities. In order to estimate them, we consider the cities in the two groups according to the number of their inhabitants (small and big). We have separated the capital of Sofia, which was (and still is) the administrative and cultural center of the country, from the group of other towns/cities, as its growth was unprecedented and incomparable with that of other cities. The data on settlements by groups of towns/cities show that the big towns/cities (except the capital of Sofia) had the greatest influx of in-migrants, refugees and immigrants by absolute number and by the indicator showing total number of in-migrants and immigrants-refugees per 1000 locals. This value in 1910 was twice as high as in the case of the small towns. Despite that between 1910 and 1926 the small towns had a much larger growth of migratory influx (both in number and percentage) than the big ones (a tendency which reversed between 1926 and 1934), but they were far behind in terms of migratory flows to the capital. (Таble 9) The latter surpassed the influx to both small and big towns/cities not only in their absolute numbers but in their intensity as well: in 1910, in the big towns/cities (except Sofia) the total number of migrants and (in-migrants and immigrants) per 1000 locals was twice as high. Sofia marked the greatest growth. There, the number of migrants was almost twice as much as that of the locals. In 1926, the local population declined in both small and big towns on account of a sharp rise in the number of migrants (almost six times within the external ones and 1.5 times within the internal ones) (Таble 9). Small towns strengthened their position of attractiveness, and they caught up with their lagging behind and the number of migrants per 1000 local people almost reached the level of big towns, although the volume of migration to them was smaller. The capital was once again distinct in scale from the other major cities. Migrants in the direction of Sofia were twice as numerous as local residents.

To quantify the role of immigration and in-migration in the urbanization of small and big towns/cities and the capital, we use an indicator that expresses the relative share of the increase in the number of immigrants/refugees and in-migrants in small and big towns/cities and Sofia compared to population growth in them. For the small towns, +44.5% belong to immigrants and +32% to in-migrants; for the big towns/cities +33% and +50% respectively, and for Sofia +21% and +51%. Or, in general, until 1926 Sofia and the big towns were growing predominantly by in-migrants, while small towns were increasing in size because of immigrants (Table 3 and 10).

Now we are going to track the most significant role of migration in the urbanization of separate towns/cities. In 1910, among the cities in Bulgaria, the biggest attraction centers for migration (internal and external), apart from the capital of Sofia, was the administrative center of the Burgas County, to which Bulgarian refugees were directed. (At that time, it was the largest such center in the county, with a population density below the average, and there were quite large reserves of state and municipal land funds.) So, in these two cities (Sofia and Burgas), 63 percent of the population consisted of in-migrants and immigrants/refugees. This figure was followed by Varna with 49 percent, Ruse with 45 percent, Plovdiv with 42 percent, and Shumen 30 percent. In 1926 the main centers of attraction for migration were the same cities but in a different sequence, and after the large refugee waves of Bulgarians from Thrace, Macedonia, Dobrudja and the Western Outskirts as well as Russians and Armenians, the number and the relative share of the settlers grew. Sofia gave its first place to Burgas, where the majority of the population was migrant (refugees, immigrants, in-migrants from other parts of the country) 87 percent, and ranked second with 68 percent, followed by Plovdiv 56 percent, Varna 55 percent, Ruse 52 percent, Haskovo 47 percent, Sliven 28 percent, Shumen 26 percent. Subsequently, in the second half of the 1920s, the immigration flow decreased considerably, stopping the refugee waves; so, Burgas (65 percent) relinquished to Sofia (68.5 percent) the leading position in the attraction of migrants. The abovementioned towns/cities (not taking into consideration the capital) were traditional industrial and commercial centers, with Ruse, Varna, and Burgas having the greatest ports on the Danube River and the Black Sea, respectively, and Plovdiv enjoying investment of German, French, and Belgian capital and a prospering food industry, Sliven being a center for the textile industry, and Haskovo developing tobacco production and trade; yet a few of them lost population through the expulsion of local Greeks (Burgas, Varna, Plovdiv), which was compensated by in-migrants and immigrants/refugees of Bulgarian ethnicity.

If we distinguish the urban attractiveness centers in relation to the extent of their attraction for the internal and external migration flows, we find that Sofia attracted an increasing percentage of the in-migration flow to towns/cities and the whole immigration flow (1926: 29 percent and 10 percent, respectively, in 1934: 33 percent and 13 percent, respectively). The capital city was followed by Plovdiv, which similarly showed an increase in its relative share in the internal migration to cities (1926: 8 percent and 3 percent, respectively, in 1934: 10 percent and 2 percent, respectively). Then, by a relative share of five to ten per cent compared to the in-migration to towns/cities, come Varna and Ruse in 1910 and 1934 and Shumen and Varna in 1926. Another several towns/cities developed as centers of attraction for refugees and immigrats (based on the indicator of immigrants’ relative share in the given city compared to all immigrants in the towns/cities in Bulgaria), with values clearly distinguishable from those of other towns/cities; they were Sofia (1926: 25 percent, 1934: 27.5 percent), followed by Plovdiv (1926: 12 percent, 1934: 19 percent), Varna (1934: 11 percent); refugees accepted into Svilengrad (1926: 6 percent), Burgas (1926: 5.4 percent, 1934: 5 percent), Haskovo (1926: 4 percent); but in the following years, the number of immigrants there was decreasing significantly due to displacement within the country.

In fact, the data shows that the main attraction center for migration was the capital, and the other four major Bulgarian cities of Plovdiv, Varna, Ruse, and Burgas lagged behind it, and only very seldom did migratory flows stand out in the urbanization of small towns. This is understandable considering that the aforementioned cities best suited the standard of living in Bulgaria at the time. Sofia was the most developed city in Bulgaria. It had electricity and good supplies of water. In the 1920s, the Rila water main was built, the construction of sewerage was started, and after the wars, the capital transformed from a predominantly consumer center and a city of clerks and officers into a commercial and industrial center with a large working class. The lack of settlements with truly urban profiles and with high standards of living, including better incomes and living facilities, contributed to Sofia’s becoming the most dynamically developing city in Bulgaria. In the second half of the 1930s, the Batova-Varna water pipeline was built, which supplied water to the sea capital. The new ports of Varna and Burgas, put into operation in the very beginning of the twentieth century, contributed to their urban revival.


Table 9. Total number of migrants (in-migrants and immigrants/refuges) and locals* and the number of migrants per 1,000 locals in small and big towns/cities, and in Sofia, 1910–193440


Towns with up to 10.000 inhabitants

Towns/cities with and above 10.000 inhabitants,

without Sofia































+/– in numbers










+/– %




















+/– in numbers










+/– %










* Population born in the locality where it was enumerated in the census.

Table 10. Number of immigrants and in-migrants together in the small and big towns/cities, and in Sofia, de facto population, 1910–192641


Immigrants in


Towns with up to 10.000 inhabitants

Towns/cities with and above 10.000 inhabitants, without Sofia


Towns with up to 10.000 inhabitants

Towns/cities with and above 10.000 inhabitants, without Sofia
















+ / – in figures







To What Extent Was Urbanization Through Migration Related to the Modernization of Towns/Cities and to Industrialization?

Unfortunately, the Bulgarian censuses do not contain information about the inter-professional in-migrants’ mobility to towns/cities. In order to answer this question, we have used the data that we have on the sectoral structure of the economically active population within in-migrants coming from villages to towns/cities, but only for the population of Bulgarian ethnic origin. This type of statistics on refugees and immigrants of Bulgarian (Table 11) and other ethnic origin (Tables 12, 13) was not published in correlation with villages and towns/cities, and that is why the data are incomparable. We have only used them as a guideline.

The coefficient of economic activity among the in-migrants of Bulgarian ethnic origin (who predetermine the whole structure) in the village-to-town/city direction was higher (1920: 61.7 percent, 1926: 60.2 percent) than the average for the country (54 percent), which indicates that most of them were labor migrants moving in search of a livelihood. The coefficient of economic activity among foreign-born refugees and immigrants was even higher (63.8 percent for 1926). In the professional structure of economically active women who had moved from village to town (Table 12) the sector of “domestic servants” dominated (over 40 percent). The urbanization process means not only village–to–town migration, but also perception of the urban way of life as well. Part of the urban lifestyle of the upper stratum in this period included the hiring of domestic servants. Even a regular servant exchange was organized in Sofia. Girls from all over the country, led by parents and dragomans, came to Sveti Kral Square (St. Kral), today’s St. Nedelja Square (St. Holy Sunday) every St. George’s Day and St. Dimitar’s Day in order to seek employment. It is noteworthy that former maidservants were preferred by bachelors as wives, especially among the peasantry, because they were literate and well-informed.42 The data in Table 11 show that women hardly left home and farm work, and they very slowly entered the professional work. Female laborers were more likely to be employed in professional work. 18 percent of them were occupied in industry, and only 4 percent in public services and the liberal professions. Those occupied in industry (38 percent) predominated among the male village-to-town in-migrants; again, among them in second place was the sector of “public services and the liberal professions” (31 percent).

However, based on the available data, it can be summarized that in the first half of the 1920s, among in-migrants (both men and women), the number and relative share of those occupied in the industrial sector was growing markedly; in addition, the number of workers in the industrial sector was growing much more rapidly than the number of workers in the agricultural sector. The male in-migrants of Bulgarian ethnicity went predominantly into industry, as did male refugees and immigrants of non-Bulgarian ethnicity, as indirectly can be assumed on the basis of Tables 12 and 13.


Table 12. Professional structure of the economically active village-to-town in-migrants of Bulgarian ethnicity, de facto population, by sex, in figures and %, 1920–192643

















In figures


In figures

Agriculture and live stockbreeding, hunting and fishing













Industry incl. mining, crafts and communications


























Public services and liberal professions













Domestic servants








































Table 13. Professional structure of the economically active urban immigrants and refugees of non-Bulgarian ethnicity, de facto population, by sex, in figures and %, 192644









In figures

Agriculture and live stockbreeding, hunting and fishing







Industry incl. mining, crafts and communications














Public services and liberal professions







Domestic servants






















Table 14. Professional structure of the economically active refugees and immigrants of Bulgarian ethnicity, de facto population, by sex, in figures and %, 192645









In figures

Agriculture and live stockbreeding, hunting and fishing







Industry incl. mining, crafts and communications














Public services and liberal professions







Domestic servants





















Urbanization is also reflected in the creation of new structures in the organization of urban space. In fact, its main sign was the change in the economic structures of the urban space. By the Mid-twentieth century, a general characteristic of the Bulgarian towns/cities, including the big ones and the capital, was their rural appearance, resulting from the presence of large sectors with a high agricultural character. In order to establish the changes, we have compared the occupational structure of the economically active population of Bulgarian ethnicity in the towns/cities (locals and inter-town/city migrants, according to the correlation of “born in towns/cities and counted as residents in the census” of Bulgarian ethnicity) with the occupational structure of the village-to-town/city in-migrants of Bulgarian ethnicity (Table 10) during the first half of the twentieth century. In the occupational structure of the economically active Bulgarian-born population which was counted as urban residents in 1920 and 1926, a slight decrease from 30.7 percent to 29.8 percent is visible in the relative share of those employed in agriculture as well as a rise from 35.4 percent to 36.2 percent among those employed in industry. Economically active in-migrants of Bulgarian ethnicity headed from the villages to the towns/cities to work mainly in the industry, where their share increased considerably (from 24.7 percent to 32.8 percent) in the first half of the 1920s. (Table 12) Among them, for this relatively short period, the relative share of the people occupied in agriculture and livestock breeding decreased from 19.5 percent to 18.6 percent. Thus, by comparing the changes in the professional structure of the two variations of the predominant economically active population of Bulgarian ethnicity, we have found that the decline in the importance of the agricultural sector was minimal and had the same values (–0.9 percent) for both variations. Within the structure of the village-to-town in-migrants, the share of industrial sector increased by 8 percent. This means that the locals and the new residents were giving up just as little of their agricultural occupations in order to engage in some kind of urban one. And the “strengthening” of industrial production in the urban economy was definitely due to in-migration and was the result of a shift among the new citizens to industrial activities.


We can summarize the results of the quantitative analysis of the birthplaces of Bulgaria’s population from the perspective of the role of internal and external migration (i.e. in-migration and immigration) in the processes of urbanization as follows:

Urbanization in Bulgaria in the period in question was mainly due to migration and in particular to in-migration, although it was undoubtedly closely related to the refugee wave and immigration during the war and in the interwar period, which strengthened the expansion of the towns and cities. The drying-up of the refugee inflow did not lead to a decline in the urbanization process. On the contrary, there was intensified internal migration towards the towns and cities and specifically in the direction from village to town/city. This was a characteristic phenomenon for other countries as well. Similar phenomena were observed in the United States in the first decades of the twentieth century, but in relation to the strengthening of restrictions on immigration.

In the first half of the 1920s, many people (predominantly men) left the villages and began to engage in non-agricultural activities in the towns and cities. But an initial process of feminization of in-migration towards the towns/cities as well as of the industrial labor force was evident too.

There was a relationship between emigration, on the one hand, and internal migration and immigration on the other, which is well illustrated by the replacement of the displaced Greek population with Bulgarian refugees and in-migrants.

The decisive role of in-migration in the urbanization process in Bulgaria was determined by in-migration to the big towns and cities (including Sofia). This was because the urbanization of big towns/cities (understood as urban population growth) quantitatively exceeded the urbanization of small ones, and it was largely determined by inter-urban migration from small to big towns.

At the same time, the urbanization of small Bulgarian towns was primarily driven by immigration.

The trend of ascending development (albeit at a slow pace) of the urbanization process in Bulgaria was mainly due to in-migration from village to town/city of the predominantly Bulgarian ethnic population, but the contribution of Armenian and Russian refugees was also quantitatively visible.

The main destinations for immigrants, with values clearly distinguishable from those of other towns/cities, was Sofia. It attracted an increasing percentage of the in-migrant flow towards the towns and of the whole set of internal migrants. Sofia was followed by the second largest city in Bulgaria, Plovdiv, but the numbers in the case of Plovdiv were much smaller.

The urbanization of the capital Sofia, which was growing to the size of a super city (certainly with regard to the living and working conditions in Bulgaria), stood out from the perspective of its scale, even against the background of the so-called big towns and cities.



Printed sources

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Общи резултати от преброяването на населението в Царство България на 31.12.1920 г. Кн. ІІІ. Статистика на професиите. София, 1926.

Общи резултати от преброяването на населението в Царство България на 31.12.1920 г. Кн. І. План и организация на преброяването. София, 1927.

Общи резултати от преброяването на населението в Царство България на 31.12.1926 г. Кн. І. План и организация на преброяването. София, 1931.

Общи резултати от преброяването на населението в Царство България на 31.12.1926 г. Кн. ІІІ. Статистика на професиите. София, 1932.

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1 According to data for 2011. See: UN, 2014b. Accessed on March 2, 2018. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/psp.2036/full

2 Bencivenga and Smith, “Unemployment, Migration and Growth,” 582–608; Bilsborrow, “Migration, Population Change and the Rural Environment,” 69–94; Kavzoglu, “Determination of Environmental Degradation,” 429–438.

3 White, International Handbook, 474–75.

4 Найденова, 3–15.

5 In this essay, I use the term “immigrant” to refer to people who came, as immigrants, to the country from abroad. Similarly, the term “emigrant” refers to people who left the country. I use the term “in-migrant” to refer to people who migrated from one settlement to another within the country.

6 Груев, Демографски тенденции, 369–70.

7 Kopsidis, “Was Gerschenkron wright?” 9, 17; Lampe and Jackson, Balkan Economic History, 576–77; Ivanov, The Gross Domestic Product of Bulgaria, 105, 107; Teichova, “Industry,” 239.

8 For details see: The 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. See also: Long, “When refugees stopped being migrantsm”, 4–26.

9 Младенов и Димитров, “Урбанизацията в България,” 13; Минков, Миграция на населението, 85; Стефанов, Демография на България, 258–59.

10 Василева, Миграционни процеси в България, 94; Марчева, “Социални измерения на урбанизацията” 127; Марчева, Политиката за стопанска модернизация, 396–97.

11 In 1880 the urban population in the Bulgarian Principality constituted 16.7 percent of the total population of the newly created state; in 1920 – 19.9 percent, and in 1934 – 21.4 percent. See: Василева, Миграционни процеси в България, 110; Георгиев, Освобождението и етнокултурното, 24; Попов, Стопанска България, 13.

12 Тотев, “Населението на България”, 26–32; Стефанов, Демография на България, 218; Даскалов, Българското общество, 143.

13 Стефанов, Демография на България, 218.

14 Тотев, Населението на България, 26–32; Стефанов, Демография на България, 218.

15 Везенков, “Урбанизацията в България,” 56–69.

16 From South Dobrudja – Silistra, Tutrakan, Dobrich, Balchik, Kavarna, and from the Western Outskirts – Bosilegrad, Strumitsa, Tsaribrod (Dimitrovdrad).

17 Ahtopol, Bansko, Gorna Dzhumaja (Blagoevgrad), Nevrokop (Gotse Delchev), Dyovlen (Devin), Daradere (Zlatograd), Ortakyoi (Ivalovgrad), Koshukavak (Krumovgrad), Kardzhali, Malko Tarnovo, Melnik, Mastanli (Momchilgrad), Petrich, Razlog, Mustafa pasha (Svilengrad), Pashmakli (Smolyan) and Vasiliko (Tsarevo).

18 Везенков, “Урбанизацията в България,” 60; Данаилов, Изследвания върху, 164–68.

19 The Components of Urban Growth in Developing Countries. Population Division. Department of Economic and Social Affairs. United Nations Secretariat. ESA/P/WP.169. Sept. 21. United Nations, 2001, 58. Accessed on June 26, 2018. https://population.un.org/wup/Archive/Files/studies/United%20Nations%20(2001)%20-%20The%20Components%20of%20Urban%20Growth%20in%20Developing%20Countries.pdf

20 Poston and Bouvier, Population and Society, 307–11.

21 Tacoli, C. et al., World Migration Report 2015.

22 Until 1926, the censuses used 10,000 inhabitants as the threshold for the distinction between small towns/cities and big towns/cities.

23 This indicator was used by the ethnographer G. Georgiev, in his study of the internal migration and urbanization processes in the years after the formation of the Third Bulgarian State. See: Георгиев, Освобождението и етнокултурното, 23.

24 Тотев, “Населението на България”, 177–79; Цеков, “Селската селищна,” 78.

25 In 1880–1900 for instance (i.e. for a period of 20 years), the urban population in Bulgaria increased by 36.6 percent and the rural one by 31.6 percent. See: Георгиев, Освобождението и етнокултурното, 23.

26 Sources: Общи резултати 1923, 14–17; Общи резултати 1927, 16–23; Общи резултати 1931, 16–23.

27 Clearly, in-migration from one city to another does not affect the national rate of urbanization.

28 Population born in the locality where it was enumerated during the census.

29 At the same time, the proportion of in-migrants among the rural population remained unchangeable until 1920 and only increased afterwards.

30 Sources: Общи резултати 1923, 14–17; Общи резултати 1927, 6–23; Общи резултати 1931, 16–23; Преброяване на населението, 3.

31 Sources: Общи резултати 1923, 14–17; Общи резултати 1927, 16–23; Общи резултати 1931, 16–23; Преброяване на населението 3.

32 Women mainly headed for villages.

33 Василева, Миграционни процеси в България, 110.

34 Sources: Общи резултати 1923, 14–17; Общи резултати 1931, 16–19; Преброяване на населението, 3.

35 Forty thousand were displaced and only ten thousand remained in Bulgaria.

36 Sources: Общи резултати 1923, 14; Общи резултати 1931, 18.

37 Sources: Общи резултати 1923; Общи резултати 1931.

38 Vratsa, Stanimaka (Assenovgrad), Samokov, Kazanlak, Chirpan, Svishtov, Shumen and Turnovo.

39 Among the Greek population in Bulgaria, until the Balkan wars there was relatively low mortality. See Щерионов, “Демографският преход,” 256.

40 Sources: Общи резултати 1923, 14–17; Общи резултати 1927, 16–23; Общи резултати 1931, 16–23; Преброяване на населението 3.

41 Sources: Общи резултати 1923, 14–17; Общи резултати 1927, 16–23; Общи резултати 1931, 16–23.

42 Даскалов, Българското общество, 153–54.

43 Sources: Общи резултати 1926, 4–5; Общи резултати 1932, 4–7.

44 Ibid.

45 Source: Общи резултати 1932, 4–7.



Volume 8 Issue 2 CONTENTS

pdfFinding Batu’s Hill at Muhi: Liminality between Rebellious Territory and Submissive Territory, Earth and Heaven for a Mongol Prince on the Eve of Battle*

Stephen Pow and József Laszlovszky
Central European University

 This study offers a reconstruction of a crucial event of pan-Eurasian historical significance—namely, the Battle of Muhi in 1241—by focusing on two primary source accounts of Batu Khan ascending a hill shortly before the battle. The two sources are not related to each other, and they represent two fundamentally different source groups related to the battle. By using a complex analytical approach, this article tries to identify the character and significance of the hill in question—something made difficult by the fact that there are no hills or mountains near the battlefield today. The attested purposes that Mongol rulers and troops had for ascending mountains are explored for clues. A hypothesis emerges according to which Batu likely ascended two different types of hill, one being a small mound (kurgan) of the type which characteristically dotted Hungary’s landscape around the battlefield. The other hill, which he ascended for religious ritual purposes, was probably one of the more prominent features in the area of Szerencs about thirty kilometers from the site of the clash. Several earlier attempts to identify the hill are now revisited in this study with two different types of approaches. Combining a unique range of textual accounts with recent archaeological findings, we suggest a drastic and perhaps more accurate reinterpretation of the course of events leading up to the important battle than the interpretations which have been proposed so far. Furthermore, by looking closely at the different narrative structures of the sources we can identify attempts by medieval authors of Central European and Asian texts to contextualize this event within their general interpretations of the battle. Thus, the main arguments of this article cross real and figurative frontiers in contemporary accounts of the episode and in their modern interpretations. This research forms part of an interdisciplinary research project carried out by a group of scholars dealing with the historical, archaeological, and topographical aspects of the Battle of Muhi.

Keywords: Mongol invasion of Europe, Batu, Mongol Empire, Battle of Muhi, battlefield archaeology, kurgan, Kingdom of Hungary


In the ruling ideology of the Mongol Empire, a distinct dichotomy was drawn between two types of polity. In relationship to the Mongols and their heaven-ordained empire, any other nation could only exist as a submissive people (il irgen) or a rebellious people (bulγa irgen).1 Therefore, when the Mongols invaded the territory of a recalcitrant foe who refused to submit to Mongol demands, this represented a passage from peaceful submission to chaos and war. Indeed, this transition across the border to break down rebellious nations that put up resistance to their authority must have carried symbolic weight, particularly for Mongol leaders and princes, when they set out on campaigns. In the case of Batu Khan and his fellow Chinggisid princes advancing through the passes of the Carpathian Mountains to invade the Kingdom of Hungary in early 1241, this sense of liminality must have been particularly stark. The passage through the rugged Carpathians at the outset might have been an omen of things to come. Hills and mountains played a significant role in the historical events of the Mongol invasion period in the kingdom, most notably as refuges for the populace and sites of rare successful resistance.2 That story is well known. However, for descendants of Chinggis Khan, hills held an additional and unique spiritual significance. They were sites of another type of liminality between Earth and Eternal Heaven (Möngke Tengri), a place of communication between a ruler of the world and its divine overseer.

Therefore, it is interesting to note that in two primary sources, written within a couple decades of the events, a hill plays a role in the Battle of Muhi. Fought in April 1241 between the Hungarian royal army and the Mongols under Batu and the famed general Sübe’etei, the battle was the most important episode in the entire invasion, and it was a clash of global historical significance.3 Yet the two accounts of Batu ascending a hilltop are very mysterious, because the battle occurred in a flatland area of the Great Hungarian Plain. The general area of the engagement is known today, but there are no real hills near the medieval village of Muhi, the presumed site of the Hungarian camp, or on either side of the Sajó River, where, according to the sources, the battle unfolded. Granted, there are the Carpathian Mountains to the north in the present-day Slovakian border region and those farther away in Transylvania. Closer by are the hills of Zemplén, more than thirty kilometers to the northeast, but none of these hills or mountains are close enough to the battlefield that they could have played any role in the events there.

This study attempts to identify Batu’s hill, as we might call it. Our hypothesis is that this detail as described in two different sources cannot be simply neglected, and we should explore why the authors of the accounts of the battle included this element in their descriptions. To that end, we will first describe both primary source accounts related to it. Then, we explore the larger body of references to the Mongols and their activities involving hills. In this discussion, we will show that there were two broad categories of activity for which the Mongols specifically sought a hilltop. In this context, the role of hills in military tactics and religious-ritual activities are taken into consideration. Finally, we offer a plausible identification of the hilltop—or possibly hilltops—and a hypothesis which is intended to explain the sequence of events in this battle of pan-Eurasian significance.

At different times, Hungarian historical research has dealt with the issue of the hilltop episodes related to the Battle of Muhi, but even according to the most recent studies, the various explanations which have been offered so far are not convincing.4 More recently, the Hungarian sinologist Sándor P. Szabó proposed new solutions in his study dealing with the place names in Chinese sources connected to the Battle of Muhi and mentioned the hill problem.5 The historian John Man personally drove around the area of the battlefield and concluded that the accounts of a hill in the preliminary events to the battle must simply be an error by medieval authors.6

Before accepting a wholesale dismissal of the claims found in the sources according to which Batu, the principal Mongol commander, mounted a hilltop shortly before the engagement at Muhi, this essay first aims to identify the hill, or hills, in question. This is important, because the Battle of Muhi retains a degree of mystery, and our present knowledge of exact places where stages of the battle unfolded is far from precise. As we pointed out in an earlier study, in order to make better sense of the battle as a series of events, we must pinpoint more accurately the geographical locations where various key events mentioned in the surviving sources occurred. These manmade and natural features include a bridge where the engagement was centered, the Hungarian camp which was surrounded by the Mongols, the highway along which the Hungarians retreated, and of course the hilltop which Batu ascended before ordering his troops to attack.7 Some past excavations have uncovered significant finds associated with the events, including an excavation of the medieval village of Muhi, while recent battlefield archaeological research utilizing metal detectors has unearthed new artifacts, such as weapons and jewelry.

More significantly, the same project has identified the medieval village of Hídvég (literally meaning “end of the bridge”). Perhaps surprisingly, the medieval settlement has a different location from the present-day village of Sajóhídvég (literally meaning “end of the bridge at the Sajó River”), even though it was depicted in eighteenth-century maps at its present location. This is a very important topographical point, as the first extant mention we have of the settlement Hidvég is a charter written in 1261. Granted, that was two decades after the battle itself, but this late appearance is due to the destruction of earlier charters in the invasion; the villages of the settlement system in the region only appear in the written sources towards the end of the thirteenth century or in the first half of the fourteenth century. Archaeological evidence, however, confirms that most of these villages were already present in the area in the earlier centuries of the Árpád Era. Thus, the medieval village Hídvég, appearing in the charter of 1261 as Hydueghe, can now be identified. We cannot be absolutely sure that the bridge mentioned in the accounts of the battle was located at this village, though it seems likely. Some wooden structures have been identified in the Sajó at various parts of the riverbed, but their exact dating is currently being worked out with the help of underwater archaeological investigations and dendrochronological studies which are now underway. This is also a part of the present research project, which plans to identify a significant number of topographical points connected to different events of the battle. By and large, the site of the battlefield can be quite accurately identified within a zone of at least 25–30 square kilometers. This means that the landscape features, including any related hills or mountains, can be analyzed in the context of the descriptions of the battle.

We have also tried to make better use of the scanty but valuable details of the battle in Asian sources. For instance, the site of the battle in the Chinese–Mongolian biography of Sübe’etei is recorded as the “Huoning” River (漷寧)—the original Mongolian was perhaps something like “Qorning.” Previously, this place name was not identified. An earlier translation of the biography by György Kara did not offer any suggestion for this name as it appears in the source.8 More recently a solution for this problem has been offered; in all likelihood, it is a reference to the Hernád River (in Slovakian it is called Hornád), which forks off the Sajó close to the medieval crossing point. Identifying the river as the Hernád/Hornád sheds some light on the preliminary troop positions from a Mongol perspective on the eve of battle.9 This interpretation of an important Asian source, originally recorded in Mongolian not long after the events, would help confirm that the area of the battlefield can be found near Muhi, and the “hill” mentioned in other sources should be sought in the general area if one wishes to interpret that detail of the sources as well. It should be noted that there is another interpretation for the Huoning River. Szabó argues that it is in fact meant to convey “Kerengő-ér” (Kerengő-stream), another feature in the area which has been proposed as the site of the Hungarian camp.10 In the context of his recent study, he also raised the issue of the hill. In any case, his conclusions do not change the general localization of the battle, and therefore we should still be seeking a hill in the same area.

The Two Accounts of Batu Ascending a Hill

Both accounts according to which a hill played an important role in the events surrounding the Battle of Muhi were recorded in the mid-thirteenth century. However, the very different social, geographical, and linguistic contexts of their composition make it certain the two narratives did not inform each other in any way. The first account we will look at is found in the Historia Salonitana of Thomas of Split (1200–1268), a high-ranking clergyman in Split (Spalato), a city on the Dalmatian coast which was under the rule of the kings of Hungary at the time. The author was a personal acquaintance of King Béla IV and other leading magnates of the kingdom. According to his account, Batu, the Mongol prince and supreme commander of Mongol forces during their westward campaign in Europe in 1241–42, used a hill for military-reconnaissance purposes. The story relates that a body of Mongol troops had retreated slowly from the central part of the kingdom (the area of the Hungarian camp near Pest), pursued by the Hungarians to the Sajó River in the northeast part of modern Hungary. Having crossed the river, the Mongols were then encamped and made a stand. The Hungarian and Mongol armies faced each other across the river, though according to Thomas of Split, the Hungarians could see only some of the Mongol forces, as the Mongols had hidden in thick woods along the bank. The Hungarians likewise made their camp, which would be the site of the ensuing battle. At that point, the Mongols’ senior commander Batu “ascended a hill to spy out carefully the disposition of the whole army.” The specific terminology (“in quondam collem conscendens”) implies that this was just some or any hill—certainly not a mountain or some defining feature of the landscape that was of any particular importance. The term applied to the landscape feature, collis, is etymologically related to “hill” or mound. In the context of the Hungarian Plain, medieval charters describing floodplain zones in this region used “mountain” (mons) for higher, elevated places, even if they are only 15–25 meters higher than the surrounding area.11 Thus, collis here probably means a mound (kurgan) on the plain. In any case, having seen the cramped disorganization of the Hungarian camp, Batu returned to his comrades and told them to be confident, since their enemies had taken poor counsel, obviously lacking military sense, by laying out their camp as a sort of sheepfold. Then, “the very same night,” he ordered a surreptitious advance across the Sajó against the Hungarians. He managed to surround their camp and won a decisive victory after they began to flee in panic.12

The second account of the Battle of Muhi which makes mention of a hill is found in the Tarikh-i Jahan-gusha by the famous Persian historian and administrator, Juvayni (1226–1283). According to this account, upon advancing into Hungary, Batu sent his brother Shiban ahead with 10,000 troops to determine the size of the Hungarian army. Shiban came back to Batu after a week, having scouted out the enemy position. He reported that the advancing Hungarian forces outnumbered the Mongol forces twofold in terms of numerical strength. Faced with this news and with the Hungarian and Mongol armies coming into proximity, Batu anxiously ascended a hilltop. For one day and night he “prayed and lamented; and he bade the Moslems also assemble together and offer up prayers.”13 The following day, the Mongols prepared for battle, and Batu ordered an attack which initiated a hotly contested struggle that ultimately ended in his victory when the Mongols entered the Hungarian camp and overturned the tents of the king. Regarding the terminology for the hill Batu ascended, it is referred to as a pushta ( ), which is defined in Francis Joseph Steingass’s Comprehensive Persian–English Dictionary as, “A little hill, an embankment; declivity; a heap; the shoulder-blades; a load; a faggot; a buttress, prop; a vault; a quay.”14 Like the Latin account, the Persian narrative states that Batu “went up on some hill” (“bar pushta-i raft”), in this case by using the suffix -i to indicate indetermination. This was “some” or “any” hill, rather than a particularly special location. It was certainly not a high mountain, since the word for that is koh (هوک).15

Thus, in passages from two unconnected sources, we see that the specific language in both cases paints a picture of a nondescript or modestly sized hill, rather than a prominent mountain. However, the described purpose for Batu’s ascension differs in the two sources. In the account offered by Thomas of Split, Batu ascended the hill or mound with a strictly military purpose in mind—to view the positions of the Hungarians. According to Juvayni’s account, Batu’s ascension had a fundamentally religious purpose—to seclude himself and pray for victory. The different explanations offered for why the Mongol leader ascended the hill invites a wider discussion here of source accounts of the Mongol practice of climbing hills and the reasons for it.

Mongol Purposes for Ascending Hills: Military and Religious Functions

In the available sources, we can find many accounts of Mongols—often those in leadership roles—ascending hills for purposes that fall into two broad categories: pragmatic, military purposes and ceremonial, religious purposes. Looking at the first category, we see that hilltops were useful to the Mongols, particularly as vantage points from which to conduct reconnaissance, but also as strategically valuable strongpoints. There are many records of commanders of campaigns initially climbing a hill like Batu did to survey the enemy’s positions and the lay of the land. Chelota, the Mongol general overseeing the campaign to subjugate Korea in 1256, is recorded to have unfurled his banners and climbed a prominent mountain, Munsusan, with several other leaders to view the topography of Kangdo (Ganghwa), the island where the Korean monarchy was holding out.16 Likewise, Khubilai, still a prince and not yet khan, was campaigning against the Song Dynasty in 1259 and ascended the mountain Xianglushan (香罏山) to survey the Yangzi River, along which the Song were conducting an effective defense. His efforts paid off. He saw a vulnerable ferry crossing on the river, ordered an attack on it, and some of his troops even succeeded in breaking through the defenses to the southern riverbank.17 These accounts lend credence to the report by Thomas, since they indicate that the surveying he described was part of the customary military tactics used by Mongol leaders.

In addition to top commanders, ordinary Mongol troops also made a strategic habit of occupying hilltops during their advances into enemy territory. A report of Song Chinese emissaries to the Mongols in the 1230s, the Heida Shilue,18 noted that during their advances, the Mongols intensely feared ambushes, so they sent out light vanguard cavalry, who habitually climbed high hills to gain vantage points. These scouts then reported their observations, along with information taken from captured locals, back to the main army.19 Elsewhere, we read that the very first thing the Mongols did during invasions was to ascend the local hills to inspect the terrain and glean the true situation of the enemy.20 In a very different context, the French Dominican friar Simon of Saint-Quentin made observations about vanguard Mongol troops and their strategic use of hills:


When they set out to invade another territory […] they occupy the whole extent of the land […] They ascend the mountains in the immediate vicinity all night long. Morning having come, they send out their vanguard troops, mentioned above, into the plains. The local people, struggling to escape the vanguard troops, flee to the mountains believing to save themselves there. Instantly, they are killed by the Tartars who were in hiding and descended on them.21

The Mendicant friar’s references to light vanguard troops (cursarios) and the references in the Chinese reports to vanguard or advance troops (前鋒/先鋒), which in both cases are reported to have ascended mountains to reconnoiter, in all probability refer to the same type of troops and habitual tactics. The papal emissary, Carpini, described how the vanguard troops (praecursores), very lightly equipped with only their tents, arms, and mounts, went ahead of the main army with the sole task of killing or putting the inhabitants to flight; plunder would be collected after the main army advanced into the area.22 The Tartar Relation by Minorite friar C. de Bridia contains unique information which supports the general picture of Mongol forces advancing in segments. The author describes how, when the Mongols invaded a country, their army moved swiftly but cautiously in wagons and on horses, bringing along wives, children, slaves, herds, and all their property. Vanguard skirmishers (cursores) went ahead to spread havoc and kill, preventing the mobilization of local resistance, while the larger multitude with the families and property followed at a distance, as long as serious resistance was not encountered.23 Thomas of Split mentioned that when the Mongols first broke through the frontier barriers and entered the Kingdom of Hungary, they basically rushed by the first peasants they encountered without showing their “ruthless nature” yet, something which could suggest that the vanguard troops had a more important mission of reconnaissance at that early stage.24 Rashid al-Din, referring to a Mongol campaign in China in 1231, described the Mongols advancing in a wide hunting battue (jerge), ascending mountains, and moving across the plains.25

The sources mention other instances when the usage of hills blended military aims with ritual functions. Simon of Saint Quentin mentioned that when Mongol forces took a city or castle by siege, “as a sign of their glory and victory and for certainty about the number of those killed, and to strike terror in other people, they erect one of the fallen in a lofty and eminent place as a marker of a thousand, suspended upside down by his feet.”26 Old nomadic traditions long before the Mongol Empire may have seen the strategic usage of hilltops combined with ceremonial and religious practices. The semi-legendary record of the Magyar arrival in Hungary, the Deeds of the Hungarians [Gesta Hungarorum] (c. 1200), mentions that when the Magyar tribes first migrated into the Carpathian Basin, three of their chieftains raced to the top of Mt. Tokaj on horseback, and in fact the mountain was named after the figure who allegedly reached the summit first. They surveyed the landscape and then held a ritual feast, an áldomás, sacrificing a horse on the spot.27 Though legendary, this account might show that Mt. Tokaj, jutting out imposingly on the plains, was immediately recognized by nomadic invaders as both useful militarily and sacred. It is interesting to note that the route of the main Mongol forces in 1241, as much as we can reconstruct it from sources, must have passed near Mt. Tokaj, a very significant landscape feature, much higher than anything else in this region and perched on the edge of the Great Plain with its remarkable volcanic shape. It is curious that the author whose work shows a strong familiarity with the geography of northeastern Hungary in particular28 suggested one could ride a horse up the rugged hill. In any case, returning to Mongol accounts specifically, we see this mixed usage of hilltops again when we read that, as a young man, Temujin (Chinggis Khan) went up a tall hill for the pragmatic purpose of surveying the landscape to see if enemies were near but felt as though God (Tengri) were communicating something to him when the saddle slipped off his horse.29

This relates directly to the other major activity related to ascending hills that we frequently find in the sources—a religious ritual for which Chinggis Khan himself seems to have set the precedent. Before a serious and dangerous military undertaking, we read of Chinggis Khan several times ritualistically being alone to commune with the divine on or near a mountain. Juzjani, a historian in the Sultanate of Delhi, related that when Chinggis Khan was going to go to war against the powerful Altan Khan of the Jin Dynasty in 1210–11, he first assembled his people at the base of a mountain and they fasted for three days, repeatedly chanting, “Tengri!” During that time, Chinggis Khan sat in a tent with a rope around his neck, and on the fourth day he dramatically emerged, shouting that Tengri would grant him victory.30 They then marched to war and won against amazing odds. In Rashid al-Din’s version of this event, Chinggis Khan actually ascended “the hill” alone, “as was his custom,” and prayed for victory and vengeance on the Jin Dynasty.31

Chinggis Khan repeated this practice when his next major war erupted against the Khwarazmian Shah in 1218, following the well-known massacre of his merchants by the governor of Otrar. According to Juvayni, upon receiving news of the massacre, Chinggis Khan went alone to the summit of a hill, feverish with rage, bared his head, and for three nights he prayed for vengeance, since he was not the instigator of the conflict.32 Descending the hill, he immediately made ready for war, in which he again would emerge as victor and which would make him a figure of global historical memory. The wording employed in this passage, “He went alone to the top of some hill” (tanha bar bala-yi pushta-i raft), is the same terminology used again later to describe Batu’s hilltop seclusion before the Battle of Muhi. The only difference is that it emphasizes that Chinggis Khan went (raft) to “the top of” (bala-yi) a hill. An indeterminate suffix clearly indicates that Chinggis Khan ascended “some hill,” rather than a particularly special hill. The idea that Batu’s ritual before the battle with the Hungarians was made in conscious imitation of his grandfather was evident to contemporaries. Rashid al-Din essentially copied Juvayni’s account of the Battle of Muhi, but in describing Batu’s going up a hill, he added, “as had been Chinggis Khan’s custom.”33 Related to Batu’s conscious imitation of a ritual which Chinggis Khan is recorded to have performed before two very daunting wars against powerful enemies, it is interesting to note that Juvayni concludes his account of the Mongol victory at Muhi by noting that it was “one of their greatest deeds and fiercest battles.”34

The apparent Mongolian custom of seclusion on a hilltop seems to mirror old Middle Eastern and Near Eastern traditions of ascetics or prophets in the wilderness, at least when this practice was described by Islamic and Christian authors. Indeed, Chinggis Khan is presented as an almost Moses-like figure in Simon of Saint-Quentin’s account of his followers choosing him as khan:


They all unanimously approved of his counsel and chose him, and his successors, as their ruler, and they promised to be obedient to him forever […] Having thus been elected, the next day while they all convened, he ascended a high mountain [in montem altum ascendit] and, exhorting them, said, “You all know that until now three sins have always been rampant amongst us—namely lying, thieving, and adultery…35

However, while in Persian, Arabic, Greek, or Syriac hagiographical texts, a holy ascetic would likely ascend a proper “mountain” (koh, jabal, oros, tur), Juvayni recorded that Chinggis Khan climbed more modest “hills.” This might well be a conscious variation from the established literary precedent rather than something accidental.36 Another interesting element is Juvayni’s claim that Batu instructed the Muslims in his army to pray shortly before the Battle of Muhi. This fits with the general Mongol policy of allowing their subjects to practice any religion openly, provided they loyally served the Mongols. Simon of Saint-Quentin seemed surprised at the degree of Mongol liberality in this regard, noting, “The law of Muhammad is proclaimed five times a day openly by Saracens within earshot of [the Mongols’] army and in all the cities they have subjugated in which Saracens dwell. As well, the Saracens in their army and all their cities preach [Islam].”37 So, there is nothing improbable about this episode, but what is interesting is what Juvayni as a Persian administrator and scholar in the Islamic tradition might have intended by highlighting it. As a subject of the Mongols, he perhaps wished to describe an episode which revealed sympathy for Islam among the highest princes of the empire, as this story might encourage his fellow Muslims, faced with the awkward situation of Mongol rule, to believe that a conversion of the animist nomads was imminent. Moreover, because it highlighted the important role that the Muslims had played in the victory, his account again appears to have been motivated by a desire to present a picture of harmony between Mongol princes and their Muslim subjects. Though this particular passage from Juvayni’s narrative is not the topic of our present investigation, its interpretation would benefit from further studies connected to the Islamization process of the Mongols. Batu is clearly shown in the episode to be following an old tradition begun by Chinggis Khan but also relying on the spiritual influence of his Muslim followers. The combination seems to have brought about success even in what was evidently a very difficult struggle.

The Reconstructed Scenario and Identity of Batu’s Hilltop at Muhi

The discussion above has established that a clergyman in Split and a Persian governor of Baghdad both separately described Batu ascending a hill shortly before the Battle of Muhi in 1241. In both cases, the terminology suggests a relatively modest hill, rather than an imposing mountain, but the accounts diverge fundamentally on the reason for which Batu ascended the hill. Based on several descriptions in sources of Mongol invasion tactics, the scenario described by Thomas fits with the practice of commanders and “vanguard” forces climbing a hill for reconnaissance. The ascension of a hill by a grandson of Chinggis Khan for religious reasons, as the event is described by Juvayni, fits more with the image of a Mongol khan performing a traditional preparation for an important war—a ritual activity not undertaken in the actual course of a battle. Given the evidence of Mongols ascending all the hills in an area for scouting purposes and the many examples of the ritual, quasi-ascetic seclusion of khans on hilltops, we have to at least consider the possibility that the two accounts are describing episodes on two different hilltops.

The following hypothetical reconstruction of the events, based closely on the source material, suggests candidates for the hilltop activities described by Thomas of Split and Juvayni. Regarding Thomas of Split, he unquestionably provided the fullest account of the battle, and, when combined with the description provided by Rogerius, we can reconstruct the movements, activities, and positions of the Hungarians before the Battle of Muhi with a good degree of accuracy. Because of the nature of their informants, these authors obviously could not provide similar levels of detail concerning the activities of the Mongols, and they disagree on a fundamental issue. Rogerius stated that Batu himself advanced with his army within half a day of Pest on March 15, 1241. Rogerius implied that the entire Mongol army under its chief commander advanced close to the Hungarian camp at Pest, and when the Hungarian army moved against it at last, the whole army under Batu withdrew.38 Rogerius’ account seems to be confused, because it states that the Mongols broke through the border defenses at the Russian Gate, likely the Verecke Pass in the Carpathians, only on March 12, 1241.39 This would suggest that the entire Mongol army (evidently with baggage, wagons, herds) moved 300 kilometers across most of Hungary in three days—a feat which is doubtful even for a small detachment, let alone the whole army. In contrast, Thomas claimed that Batu was the senior commander of the army, but “they sent on ahead of them a squad of cavalry. These troops rode up to the Hungarian camp, making repeated shows of themselves and challenging them to battle” before taking off in rapid flight, firing arrows, when the Hungarians at last pursued them.40

On this crucial issue, Thomas must be correct. His claim echoes the descriptions of the Mongol use of vanguard troops, which quickly moved far ahead of the more cautious main army, a practice detailed in many sources, including those outlined above. More importantly, his account agrees with the Asian sources, which provide versions of the invasion of Hungary originating from Mongol accounts. Juvayni related that Batu sent ahead his brother Shiban in advance with a detachment of 10,000 troops to do reconnaissance on the Hungarian army. Shiban returned after a week and reported to Batu that the Hungarian army was twice the size of the Mongols’ forces, news which caused the chief commander to ascend a hill as the armies drew close, praying and lamenting in apparent anxiety about the coming battle.41 Sübe’etei’s biography in the Yuan Shi, which was translated from a lost Mongolian original written in the mid-thirteenth century, states that the Mongol princes were divided along five different routes as their forces broke through the Carpathians and entered the Kingdom of Hungary. Sübe’etei operated in “the vanguard” unit, which went ahead, executing a plan to “lure” (誘) the king’s army to the “Huoning River” (“速不台出奇計誘其軍至漷寧河”).42 The translation into Persian of a Mongolian report on the invasion found in Rashid al-Din’s historical compendium agrees that the Mongol princes had entered Hungary along five distant routes. Thus, it appears that Batu, Shiban, and Sübe’etei were facing Hungary’s royal army without the contingents of the other Chinggisid princes, who were in Transylvania and Poland attacking other enemy forces simultaneously.43 This might partly explain the widespread anxiety in Batu’s army documented in the Yuan Shi and in Mendicant reports.44

Asian sources, which are more reliable when it comes to the Mongol perspective, create a picture of a vanguard detachment having gone ahead of Batu and having carried out a premeditated plan to lure the Hungarians to a site chosen well in advance of the battle. This means that Batu and evidently the bulk of his army, including followers, herds, wagons, etc., were already east of the Sajó River well before the Hungarians arrived in pursuit of a vanguard contingent. Judging by his version’s agreement on these details, Thomas of Split was well informed. He was aware that the Hungarian forces outnumbered the Mongols at the battle and he also stated that when the Hungarian forces arrived at the Sajó River, they realized that “the whole multitude of the Tatars” (universa multitudo Tartarorum) was already encamped on the other side of the river.45 This suggests the premeditated choice of the battlefield long in advance. In other words, there seems to have been a plan for the vanguard to lure the Hungarians to Batu’s already waiting main army. This position was likely chosen because the Sajó and Hernád Rivers provided a defensive line from which the Mongols could choose the time and place to attack. The natural gallery forest that runs along the floodplain of the Sajó would have concealed Mongol movements as they executed their plan to surround the Hungarians from several directions. There is textual evidence that this obscuring strategy was effective against the Hungarians. In a letter dated to July 1241, Emperor Frederick II offered an account of the battle based on what he had heard directly from the bishop of Vác, who had come to his court as an ambassador of the king of Hungary to seek help. The armies were thought to be still five miles apart from each other (distarent quinque tantum miliaribus) when the advance Mongol unit suddenly sprang forward and surrounded the Hungarian camp at dawn.46 This suggests that the Hungarians thought the Mongols were still a considerable distance away since, in addition to the night darkness, the gallery forest along the Sajó obscured the Mongol positions and movements.

Most significant for our understanding of the battle, this interpretation of the sources suggests that vanguard forces were deployed in the leadup to the fighting, while Batu and the main body of the Mongols remained in the northeast of Hungary, never venturing as far as Pest before their victory. Thus, it is feasible that Batu was even considerably east of the Sajó River in the days before the battle, which then means we should consider hills that were not in the immediate vicinity of the site, especially since the sources on Mongol tactics note that they habitually ascended all the hills in a region during an invasion.

A key issue in determining the hilltop from which Batu reportedly viewed the Hungarian camp relates to the location of the camp itself. Several sources agree that during the battle, the Mongols struggled to force their way across the Sajó River in the area of a bridge spanning its banks. This crossing became the focal point of some of the heaviest fighting before the Mongols managed to force the Hungarians back and surround their camp.47 The exact identifications of the site of the Hungarian camp and the bridge on the river are still tasks for the present research project. There is evidence that the courses of the Sajó and Hernád have shifted somewhat in the intervening centuries. For instance, a detailed map made in 1771 indicates the remains of an old bridge (Vestigum Pontis antiqui) east of Ónod and the Sajó. So, these questions are further complicated by the problem of the interflow of the Hernád and Sajó rivers. The exact location of the confluence in the mid-thirteenth century is still a research problem, but there is clear evidence for its being situated at a different place compared to the present-day interflow. In fact, the very latest archaeological surveys of the area confirm that the site of medieval Hídvég—and therefore the location of the bridge over the river—must have been located at a site between the present channels of the rivers Sajó and Hernád, rather than at modern Sajóhídvég (east of the Hernád), as has long been assumed (Figs. 1 and 2).

The map produced in the First Military Survey of Hungary undertaken by the Habsburg Empire (1782–1785) allows us to see the eighteenth-century landscape and road network.48 This is very useful, because though five centuries had passed between the battle and the survey, it still depicts the area before the utterly transformative effects of modernization and huge population growth on the landscape. The general vicinity of the Hungarian camp was Muchi Rudera (Fig. 3), literally the ruins of Muhi, the actual location of the Árpád-era village and late medieval market town after which the battle was named in the modern secondary literature and general public discourse. Archaeological excavations have confirmed the existence of the medieval village at the site indicated in the survey.49 The present-day village of Muhi on the riverbank was in fact called Poga in the Middle Ages, and it was renamed Muhi only in 1928 to commemorate the battlefield. Besides the village ruins, we notice on the survey map the existence of several small kurgans west of the Sajó River and to the east of the medieval village. These artificial prehistoric burial mounds (kunhalom) can be found in many parts of Hungary. There are also natural mounds near the Sajó, on the western side of the river, in the area of the battle; some can be quite high, and they were used as permanent settlement sites for a long period in the Bronze Age.50 These are in fact close to or in the immediate area of the Kerengő-ér, discussed earlier and sometimes proposed as the site of the Hungarian camp (Fig. 4). Recent archaeological investigations with metal detectors have found evidence of weapons and other artifacts located west of the Sajó River at a site where the remains of one of these mounds stand, suggesting that fighting took place there between the Hungarians and Mongols; clearly such features of the local landscape played a role in the battle. However, it is important to note that any mound that Batu might have used to survey the Hungarians before the fighting commenced must have been on the eastern side of the river.

Regarding Thomas of Split’s account, it is plausible that Batu used a kurgan as his vantage point. While the First Military Survey map shows several natural mounds on the western side of the river where the Hungarians were situated, we do not find artificial burial mounds (kurgans) in the immediate vicinity of the east side of the bank, where the Mongols were situated before the battle. However, on the map we see three mounds north of Tiszaluc, that is, east of the Sajó River and present-day Sajóhídvég. These mounds have already been discussed in the secondary literature in the context of the text of Thomas of Split,51 but we wish to offer some new points of argumentation concerning the wider interpretation of this Latin source. The relevant mounds (kurgans) are situated roughly ten kilometers from what is likely the site of the medieval bridge or crossing on the river on a very prominent elevated landscape dotted with three kurgans, two of which were important enough to be named in the survey (Fig. 5). There is one with no name, and close to it is another kurgan named “Eperiesi Halom” (Eperjesi halom). It is interesting that Eperjesi halom is right next to a road which leads to the Sajó River crossing at Köröm, a place which has been often identified as a possible crossing on the river during the battle. Much more intriguing for the purposes of this study is the third mound of a higher elevation and seemingly greater importance named “Strásahalom” (Strázsahalom), which means a hill used for reconnaissance, i.e. a vantage point used for viewing enemies. There are similar mounds with the same name in other parts of the Great Plain (for example Strázsahalom near Cegléd or Strázsahegy near Hatvan), where the same explanation is given for the name. At the same time, we need to note that this name is modern, as it is derived from a South Slavic language milieu and was not used in the Middle Ages. While Eperjesi halom is a typical kurgan site, relatively small with steep sides in a very flat area, Strázsahalom and its landscape is quite different. It is situated on a high plateau north of the Tisza River and the kurgan was erected on the highest point of this natural elevated slope. It is significantly higher than anything else in the area and offers a splendid viewpoint from where one can see Mt. Tokaj, the mountains near to Szerencs, the gallery woodland of the Tisza, the Sajó and Hernád Rivers, and the whole plain on the eastern side of the Sajó.

In any case, without a closer option, it is possible that Batu made use of this distant hill; its name proves that it was used for reconnaissance at some point in the past, and it was the most significant high ground in the general area. As evidence of that, it was depicted again in the Second Military Survey’s map (1819–1869), with only the “Strázsa” kurgan being named among all local kurgans (Fig. 6). It is indicated on the map as the highest point in the landscape. On the Third Military Survey’s map, created in the late nineteenth century, both the Eperjesi and Strázsa mounds are indicated. Eperjesi is marked without a name, but it is indicated to be 136 meters above sea level, while Strázsahalom is named and listed as being 156 meters above sea level. As such, it was the highest point in the area. As clear evidence of this, this third survey’s map offers another name for the mound in brackets, “Messzelátó.” This means literally a vantage point from where you can see a long distance (Fig. 7). Thus, Strázsahalom must have been the most significant landmark in the Middle Ages and the highest point in this otherwise flat area. In the framework of our new research project on the Battle of Muhi, we will conduct some visibility experiments at the site, and with the help of GIS analytical methods, we will also be able to investigate various aspects of the topographical situation. While the shape and size of Eperjesi halom did not change, as it has never been ploughed, the area and the kurgan itself of Strázsahalom has been under agricultural cultivation and because of erosion, some changes have occurred. This means that it must have been higher in the Middle Ages than at present.

Modern agriculture has also worked changes on the surrounding landscape, but it is possible to see Strázsahalom and determine the view it provided. Granted, it was distant enough that Batu could not have viewed clear details of the Hungarian camp from it. Still, we must be aware of a key detail in our source on the matter. Thomas of Split noted that Batu viewed the Hungarian camp, determining from its overall layout that the Hungarian king was a poor strategist, and “then, the very same night” (tunc, eadem nocte), he ordered his troops to attack.52 From our own personal survey of the site it seems very probable that the torches and campfires of the Hungarian camp, situated on a mound on the western side of the Sajó river, would be clearly visible during a night in April. After all, it could be that Batu only saw a torchlight outline or the campfires of the troops (in early April it is ordinarily cold), something which would be visible for dozens of kilometers on a clear night. It is only 11 kilometers from Strázsahalom to the site of the Sajó River in the direct vicinity of medieval Hídvég, so if the Hungarian camp was somewhere nearby on the other side of the river, it was likely not more than 12–13 kilometers away from the vantage point. Another factor we should take into consideration is the presence of gallery woodlands in the floodplains of the Sajó River, which would have obscured the view of the other side if one were trying to conduct reconnaissance close to the river, even from a local kurgan. However, if one were to move farther away to a significantly higher point, one could then see the campfires or torchlights above the trees on a clear night from quite a distance. For what it is worth, the battle occurred very shortly before the new moon, when, under ordinary conditions, it would have been a dark night.53

In addition to the landscape features suggested above as candidates, we can also consider the remote possibility that similar kurgans once existed nearer the eastern banks of the Sajó and Hernád Rivers, across from the Hungarian camp, before the military surveys were conducted. On that side, there are some modest points of elevation, like Kövecses halom (110 m. today) and Németi halom, another kunhalom which appears in the First Military Survey. Perhaps there were nearby mounds that were already leveled in earlier centuries for agricultural purposes long before the Habsburg military surveys were made. In the earliest survey, one notices much agricultural land already along the Hernád River. But this is not a likely scenario. The type of agricultural practice that involved leveling the landscape and flattening kurgans started only in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The gazetteers of the Great Plain’s kurgans give a very clear indication of these modern losses.54 Furthermore, the term “Strázsa” indicates that Strázsahalom was a far higher mound than the surrounding features. So, all things considered, it seems to be the most likely candidate in the area for Batu’s vantage point.

Regarding the hill in Juvayni’s account, the vague terminology allows us to imagine some modest artificial mound like Strázsahalom serving a double purpose of vantage point and site of ritual seclusion. Yet, these drastically different purposes suggest that Batu may well have used a different hill; Juvayni made no mention of Batu seeing or attempting to see the Hungarian army during his time on the hill. In fact, the passage implies that the Hungarians had not yet arrived. Moreover, it is hard to believe that a Chinggisid prince on the eve of battle would have considered a modest artificial mound as a suitable site to commune ritualistically with Tengri in the model of his divine ancestor. About 30 kilometers northeast of the medieval ruins of Muhi, the isolated, impressive, and natural hills in the vicinity of Szerencs–Nagy-hegy and Fuló-hegy–seem likely candidates (Fig. 8). We might also consider Bekecs-hegy, which is one of the most impressive hills on the edge of the Great Hungarian Plain, and which is situated very close to Szerencs. If one were travelling from the northeast, as we know the Mongols were in 1241, these three would be the most “hill”-like landscape features, and they stand out rather dramatically on the plain. Certainly, this general area and particularly Nagy-hegy (called Mount Szerencs in medieval works) were interpreted to have been both sacred and useful to earlier nomadic invaders of the Carpathian Basin.

The Mongols are recorded to have broken through the forests and wooden barricades in the northeast Carpathian border region, employing 40,000 men with axes to clear the way.55 If we believe the Deeds of the Hungarians, a work thought to have been written around 1200 and predating the Mongol invasion, the Magyar tribes, when they entered the Carpathian Basin, proceeded by the same route and even employed peasants to clear a pathway through the Carpathians, like Batu and the Mongols allegedly later did.56 The semi-mythical account tells us that their leading chieftain, Árpád, was immediately drawn to the hills of Szerencs, from which he examined the surrounding landscape. He made his base there initially. Indeed, the name “Szerencs” in Hungarian is tied to luck, suggesting this favorable association.57 According to the story, the Magyar chieftain allegedly remained at the site and sent his followers deeper into the country to conquer and explore. When they returned with reports of victories, Árpád held a pagan feast for a week at Szerencs, and then the whole body of the nomadic Magyars camped by the Sajó River at the site of the later battle of 1241 before advancing into the heart of the Carpathian Basin.58 If the possibility had not been ruled out on the basis of the paleographic study of the manuscript,59 the similarities between the Magyar and Mongol invasions almost invite a renewed discussion of whether Anonymous could in fact have been Béla IV’s notary rather than the notary of Béla III.60 However, evidence suggests that the conventional view is valid.

The stories in the Deeds of the Hungarians might be mere myths, but then the startling parallels between the routes and actions of the Magyar prince, Árpád, and the Mongol prince, Batu, become even harder to explain. These parallels might support the view that the traditional accounts of the Magyars’ arrival in the Carpathian Basin have a historical basis. Regardless, the hills of Szerencs and more distant Tokaj have a striking appearance on the flat plains, and they would be strategically valuable sites for nomadic invaders. Just as legends held that Árpád cautiously remained in the Szerencs area and sent vanguard divisions to explore the land, it is possible that Batu chose a similar strategy several centuries later. This scenario is more realistic than the notion that the Mongols brought families and carts full of property very close to the location of a battle which they feared they might well lose, with their herds scattered all over the area. The friars and Chinese diplomatic reports mentioned that Mongol troops brought their families during major invasions, as mentioned, and we can be sure this was the case in Hungary. We read details of Mongol children and women taking part in massacres of the local population in 1241.61 Mongol armies included the family members of the highest leaders, as we see in an account of an unsuccessful second major Mongol invasion of Hungary in 1285. The Jochid royal campaign leader and future khan of the Golden Horde, Töle Buqa, “with his wife,” retreated to his territory east of the Carpathians under desperate circumstances.62

Thus, it is plausible that the Mongol army followed a complex strategic system in 1241, and when Shiban was far ahead provoking the royal army near Pest, Batu was somewhere around Szerencs or Tokaj. While Tokaj is the most striking feature of the landscape (it figures prominently in the Deeds of the Hungarians for instance), it seems too far from the Muhi battlefield, so the hilly area near Szerencs was more likely the site where Batu ascended a hill (or two). The masses of the non-combatants, herds, and plunder were situated there at some distance from the battle and much closer to the mountains so that in the event of defeat, they could escape. In this scenario of uncertainty, Batu would have engaged in his ritual of spiritual preparation mentioned by Juvayni, going to a hilltop after having received news that he was facing daunting odds in the impending struggle. If so, this mirrors descriptions of Mongol behavior on campaigns detailed in Asian and Franciscan sources, which assert that Mongols were extremely cautious during advances into enemy territory, and they kept their families back in highly risky situations.


This paper has offered new speculative suggestions concerning which hill(s) Batu ascended near a battle site which was likely preselected by the Mongols because of the river barrier and gallery forest along it, which would conceal their movements (Fig. 5). It was an aim of the Mongols to conceal their positions and advances across the river in order to encircle the Hungarian camp in the predawn darkness. Regarding the crossing, the bridge where there was documented fighting between the Mongols and Hungarians is the key feature and, as mentioned earlier, we are now taking steps to identifying it as another aim of the larger project.

Less speculatively, this paper has also highlighted the two broad purposes for climbing hills described in the sources. The hills near Szerencs would be suitable for a solemn religious tradition described by Juvayni, an activity which can be interpreted as a movement between the frontiers of the earthly and heavenly spheres, whereas any sufficiently high, nearby kurgan would suit the purpose of reconnaissance described by Thomas of Split. This sort of military reconnaissance signified movement between the territory secured and pacified by the advance of the Mongols and the frontier zone of conflict with the Hungarian army. For Batu, it would have been the frontier between territory in submission and that which was still in rebellion.

Batu may only have ascended a single hill (or perhaps none). If he only ascended one hill, it is interesting to consider that a Persian and a Dalmatian author each saw a very different purpose in the act. Continued battlefield archaeological work at Muhi is right now revealing new findings which enrich our understanding of the events. Even for the connected topographical or landscape archaeological investigations, it is essential to analyze why different textual sources refer to significant landmarks in the area of the battle. Perhaps the issue of the hilltop, too, will be further clarified and deepen our understanding of the Mongol political, military, and spiritual associations with hills and mountains. At the same time, this hilltop episode illustrates how very different sources which emerged independently in European or Mongol-ruled milieus can mutually contribute to our understanding of the important battle. The episode also underlines that such details should be discussed within the narrative structures of each text, carefully contextualizing the aims of the authors behind these sources. While for Thomas of Split, details of the military tactics of the invading army were regarded as particularly important issues, the religious spiritual aspects of a Mongol ruler’s behavior and its connections to a Chinggisid tradition were far more important issues for a Persian author writing a history of the Mongol Empire.


The basic concept of this article was developed by S. Pow. Historical events in the written sources on the invasion were discussed by both authors. General interpretations of these sources were made by S. Pow, while the discussion of relevant Hungarian secondary literature is the work of J. Laszlovszky. The issues connected to the battlefield archaeological investigations and the topographical features of Muhi were discussed by J. Laszlovszky. We wish to thank Georg Leube (University of Bayreuth) for his helpful advice on Persian philological issues. We would also like to thank Balázs Nagy (Department of Physical Geography, ELTE) for his advice on the battlefield site and for supplying useful figures. We are very grateful for the LIDAR survey results provided by HELM Solutions for our present research project.


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1 Allsen, “Mongol Census Taking in Rus’,” 50.

2 Laszlovszky et al., “Contextualizing the Mongol Invasion,” 423–31, 437; Nagy, Tatárjárás, 175–201; Pow, “Hungary’s Castle Defense Strategy,” 234–36.

3 Laszlovszky et al., “Reconstructing the Battle of Muhi,” 30.

4 Négyesi, “A muhi csata,” 302; B. Szabó, A tatárjárás, 128.

5 P. Szabó, “A muhi csata és a tatárjárás,” 259–86.

6 Man, Genghis Khan, 271.

7 Laszlovszky et al., “Reconstructing the Battle of Muhi,” 32–33.

8 Katona, A tatárjárás emlékezete, 83–84.

9 Pow and Liao, “Subutai: Sorting Fact from Fiction,” 65–66.

10 P. Szabó, “A muhi csata és a tatárjárás,” 270–75.

11 Laszlovszky, “Dedi etiam terram,” 9–24.

12 Thomas of Split, History of the Bishops, 262–63.

13 Qazvini, Tarikh-i Jahan-gusha-yi Juvayni, 325; Boyle, History of the World Conqueror, 270–71.

14 Steingass, Comprehensive Persian-English Dictionary, 252.

15 Ibid., 1064.

16 Schultz and Kang, Koryosa Choryo II, 352.

17 Yuan Shi, 61–62.

18 For the Chinese text of the Heida Shilue, see: https://ctext.org/wiki.pl?if=gb&chapter=922402#p62

19 Olbricht and Pinks, Meng-ta pei-lu, 183.

20 Ibid., 190.

21 Richard, Histoire des Tartares, 43.

22 Van den Wyngaert, Sinica Franciscana, 80; Dawson, The Mongol Mission, 35.

23 Painter, “The Tartar Relation,” 98–99.

24 Thomas of Split, History of the Bishops, 260–61.

25 Thackston, Rashiduddin, 310.

26 Richard, Histoire des Tartares, 46.

27 Bak, Rady and Veszprémy, Anonymus and Master Roger, 44–45.

28 Ibid., xxiii.

29 Thackston, Rashiduddin, 46.

30 Raverty, Tabakat-i-Nasiri, 954.

31 Thackston, Rashiduddin, 283.

32 Qazvini, Tarikh-i Jahan-gusha-yi Juvayni, 169; Boyle, History of the World Conqueror, 80–81.

33 Thackston, Rashiduddin, 321.

34 Boyle, History of the World Conqueror, 271.

35 Richard, Histoire des Tartares, 28–29.

36 Special thanks to Georg Leube (Bayreuth) for his deep literary and philological insights on this point.

37 Richard, Histoire des Tartares, 47.

38 Bak, Rady and Veszprémy, Anonymus and Master Roger, 168–69, 180–81.

39 Ibid., 156, 160–61.

40 Thomas of Split, History of the Bishops, 260–61.

41 Boyle, History of the World Conqueror, 270.

42 Pow and Liao, “Subutai: Sorting Fact from Fiction,” 63–66.

43 Boyle, The Successors, 69–70.

44 Painter, “The Tartar Relation,” 82–83; Richard, Histoire des Tartares, 77.

45 Thomas of Split, History of the Bishops, 282–83, 260–61.

46 Luard, Matthaei Parisiensis, 114. A mile in medieval terminology is ambiguous but often could be considerably longer than the modern designation.

47 Painter, “The Tartar Relation,” 82–83; Pow and Liao, “Subutai: Sorting Fact from Fiction,” 66–67.

48 The First Military Survey of the Kingdom of Hungary (1782–1785) is accessible at: https://mapire.eu/en/map/firstsurvey-hungary/

49 Laszlovszky et al., “Reconstructing the Battle of Muhi,” 33.

50 Fischl, “Bújócskázó bronzkori lelőhelyek.”

51 Négyesi, “A muhi csata,” 302–3.

52 Thomas of Split, History of the Bishops, 262–63.

53 Négyesi, “A muhi csata,” 296.

54 Ecsedy, The people; “Ex lege” védett; Rákóczi, “Újabb lépések,” 1–11.

55 Thomas of Split, History of the Bishops, 258–59.

56 Bak, Rady and Veszprémy, Anonymus and Master Roger, 34–35, 160–61.

57 Ibid., 47.

58 Ibid., 58–59.

59 Ibid., xix–xxiv.

60 Vékony, “Anonymus kora.”

61 Thomas of Split, History of the Bishops, 272–73.

62 Perfecky, The Hypatian Codex, 96.

* Our work was supported by the grant of the Nemzeti Kutatási, Fejlesztési és Innovációs Hivatal (National Research, Development and Innovation Office), project registration number: K128880.


Figure 1. Interpretation of historical changes of watercourses of the Sajó near Ónod and of the river confluence site of the Sajó and Hernád based on geomorphology, cross sections, and LIDAR survey. The upward spikes on the graph are representative of trees.


Figure 2. Another interpretation of historical changes of watercourses of the Sajó near Ónod and of the river confluence site of the Sajó and Hernád based on geomorphology, cross sections, and LIDAR survey. The upward spikes on the graph are representative of trees.


Figure 3. “Muchi Rudera,” the ruins of the medieval town of Muhi in the First Military Survey Map. Source: “Königreich Ungarn (1782–1785) – First Military Survey.” Digitized by Arcanum. https://mapire.eu/en/map/firstsurvey-hungary/?layers=147&bbox=2109136.4761014967%2C6019595.635189405%2C2134914.8638906726%2C6026283.875164358


Fig. 4. UAV-based surface model of a supposed battle location (Csüllő) suggested in past scholarship on the basis of finds.


Figure 5. The distance between the likely vantage point area and the supposed crossing point of the Sajó near Ónod. Source: “Königreich Ungarn (1782–1785) – First Military Survey.” Digitized by Arcanum. https://mapire.eu/en/map/firstsurvey-hungary/?layers=147&bbox=2109136.4761014967%2C6019595.635189405%2C2134914.8638906726%2C6026283.875164358


Figure 6. “Sztrázsa domb,” the only named kurgan in the region in the Habsburg Second Military Survey. Source: “Hungary (1819–1869) – Second military survey of the Habsburg Empire.” Digitized by Arcanum. https://mapire.eu/en/map/secondsurvey-hungary/?layers=5&bbox=2108467.652103985%2C6020316.891614754%2C2134246.039893161%2C6027005.131589707


Figure 7. Strázsahalom as depicted in the Habsburg Third Military Survey, with altitude (156 m.) and a comment that it offered a distant view of the surrounding area. Source: “Habsburg Empire (1869-1887) – Third Military Survey (1:25000).” Digitized by Arcanum https://mapire.eu/en/map/ thirdsurvey25000/?layers=129&bbox= 2108620.5261604865%2C6019892.496637743%2C2134398.9139496624%2C6026580.736612696


Figure 8. The distance between Szenrenc and the ruins of the medieval town of Muhi. Source: “Königreich Ungarn (1782–1785) – First Military Survey.” Digitized by Arcanum. https://mapire.eu/en/map/firstsurvey-hungary/?layers=147&bbox=2109136.4761014967%2C6019595.635189405%2C2134914.8638906726%2C6026283.875164358

Volume 8 Issue 2 CONTENTS

pdfOn Two Sides of the Border: The Hungarian–Austrian Border Treaty of 1372

Renáta Skorka
Research Centre for the Humanities, Hungarian Academy of Sciences

The present paper explores the history of the emergence of mixed Hungarian–Austrian commissions in the late Middle Ages. The history of the mixed commissions offers insights into the process during which royal power shifted, in the strategies it adopted in order to address everyday and manifold breaches and dissensions which were common along the border, by negotiations rather than by military intervention. As attested by the sources, this negotiation-based system of conflict resolution between the two neighboring countries appeared in the last decade of the thirteenth century. In the next century, the idea of dividing the Hungarian–Austrian border into sections and submitting the regulation of issues concerning the territories on the two sides of the border emerged, first in 1336 and, then, at the very end of Charles I’s reign in 1341. Under Charles’s son and successor, King Louis I, the first attempt to establish a mixed Hungarian–Austrian commission was made in 1345, resulting in a fairly complicated system. The first documented session of the mixed commission can be connected to the year 1372; it was the border settlement agreed on then that was renewed and adjusted to the requirements of his own age by King Sigismund of Luxemburg in 1411.

Keywords: Hungarian–Austrian border, fourteenth century, mixed commissions, Angevins, Habsburg, Sigismund of Luxemburg

The Western border of the Kingdom of Hungary, which ran along the eastern provinces of the Holy Roman Empire (which at the time were under Habsburg rule), is interesting from the perspective of the historian for several reasons. Not only are there numerous written sources on the history of this border, but these sources suggest that this border was often the site and subject of events which suggest that the histories of the two neighboring polities were much more connected by the border than divided. These connections included the tensions which arose in issues such as the everyday lives of the estates which stretched across the border, the leaseholders’ attempts to cultivate the vineyards and ploughlands of the neighboring countries, the nobles’ changes of allegiance to the side of neighboring rulers, the movements of thieves and rogues who were fleeing from one side of the border to the other, the long-distance traders traveling through provinces with rich stocks, the retailers with local interests, the landholders who shared utilities and owned ferries on the two banks of the border rivers, and taxpayers who paid their taxes in the currency of the neighboring country. These recurrent and, from the perspective of political history, seemingly insignificant conflicts could have had an impact on the relationship between the two countries. In settling disputes, royal power could waver between two possibilities; it could choose armed intervention, by which it could further worsen the diplomatic balance, or it could choose to solve a problem through negotiations. Because of the high number of infringements and the diversity of the cases, negotiations required permanent, recurrent, and, because of the special location, bilateral negotiations, investigations, and legal remedies, which rulers executed with the assistance of representatives. This led to the formation of the mixed Hungarian–Austrian commissions in charge of border disputes in the fourteenth century. The present study gives an overview of the stages of the formation of this commission and provides a detailed analysis of a so far entirely neglected document from 1372 which is the first evidence of a meeting of these commissions. However, as the source is known only in fragmented transcriptions, the starting point of the present work is the renewal of the treaty from 1411, the period during which Sigismund ruled.

“Antecedents” in the Sigismund Period

On October 7, 1411 in Pressburg (today Bratislava), the king of Hungary, Sigismund of Luxemburg, betrothed his two-year-old daughter Elisabeth to the eleven-year old duke of Austria, Albert V of Habsburg, who took measures actively supported by his future father-in-law to be freed from the guardianship of his older relatives, Ernest and Friedrich IV.1 Two days before this event, the king of Hungary and his young protégé issued a document in which they renewed a treaty (dieselbe ordnunge wider czu vernewen) that which was concluded by their predecessors, the late Hungarian King Louis I, and the dukes of Austria Albert III and Leopold III, but put in action by six members of the noble elites (sechs redlicher manne) from Hungary and the Habsburg provinces. The document in question, signed on October 5, 1411 in Pressburg (most probably similarly to its Angevin-period predecessor), in order to facilitate agreement and peace between the two countries, concentrated solely on the border.2 At the time of the renewal of the border agreement, Sigismund started to reclaim the strategically important castle, Devín.3 He ordered the voivode of Transylvania, Stibor, to redeem the castle that stood at the confluence of the Danube and Morava rivers and was considered one of the western gates of the Kingdom of Hungary, with its belongings along with the castle of Ostrý Kameň from Lesel der Hering, to whom it had been in pledge for a long time (vor czyten).4 We know about Hering that in 1397, as a loyal subject of the Habsburg family in Austria, he received Walterkirchen on the border of the Margravate of Moravia and Austria as a pledge from Albert IV and William, dukes of Austria5 and that, along with numerous members of the Austrian elite, he appeared at the provincial assembly of Eggenburg at the end of May 1411, where the supporters of the young Albert V secretly took an oath to support the child kept in custody,6 setting the stage for the border agreement and the betrothal in October.

The 1411 border agreement, however, probably has roots not only in the Hungarian estates pledged to Austrians. Violent acts were committed on both sides of the Hungarian–Austrian border, and the people who committed these acts spared neither the lives of the locals nor the lives of the landowners nor their wealth. The case of the Scharfenecks, who owned lands in Moson County by the border (quasi in metis seu regni nostri confiniis situate) from the first decade of the fifteenth century, offers a good example.7 Frederick von Scharfeneck and his brother, Hermann, whose father John, originating from the Electoral Palatinate, had been living in Hungary since 1376, held the castle of Kittsee beginning in 1390. In the donation charter of the castle, they obliged themselves that no matter who they pledged or sold the castle and its belongings to, namely Pama, Mannersdorf am Leithagebirge, and Hof am Leithagebirge, these lands could not be alienated from the Kingdom of Hungary and the territory of the Hungarian crown.8 The building of the castle of Scharfeneck or Sárfenék in Moson County can be associated with the two boys (hence Hungarian historiography refers to them as Sárfenekis).9 According to the sources, the estates of the Scharfenecks by the border were threatened from the Austrian territories. As is clear from an account from March 1409, two of their villages, Mannersdorf am Leithagebirge and Hof am Leithagebirge, were threatened by complete depopulation due to the raids of plunderers and rogues, in answer to which the Scharfenecks received permission to resettle them.10 Frederick Scharfeneck neither seem to have tried to keep away from a little fray himself. According to a record dating to the beginning of 1412, he made forays into Austria and plundered the land of Pilgrim and Hans von Puchheim called Seibersdorf on the right bank of the River Lajta (in German Leitha), and he set the manor on fire there, occupied their castle, and, heading towards the lower course of the Lajta, did the same with the estate of the Hundsheimers.11 These forays might have happened in the previous year, so exactly when the border agreement was concluded.

If a ruler gave away or pledged Hungarian incomes to the members of the Habsburg family, this created a hotbed of conflict in the form of enduring violations of the border. In 1402 Sigismund, in compensation for his 16,000 golden florins of debt, pledged the incomes of the thirtieth customs places of Pressburg, Rusovce and Sopron (dreissigist zu Prespurg, zu Kerphemburg und zu Ödemburg) to Albert IV, duke of Austria, so that Albert could then run with his own thirtieth collectors and staff, which means that they had the right to assess and collect the customs on foreign trade at these three places in accordance with the thirtieth and chamber laws and customs (als des dreissigisten und unser kamerrecht und gewonheit ist).12 It is probably needless to say that these kinds of positions in the economy created numerous opportunities for abuse, and the foreign toll collectors could provoke hostility among the inhabitants of the kingdom, while the relationship between the towns close to the border and the Habsburg provinces was not untroubled at all.

Sopron, which in the fourteenth-century sources is referred to as a town on the border, as a gate of the Kingdom of Hungary (civitas Supruniensis in confmio Theutonie sita, quasi porta regni),13 made a complaint in 1408 to Leopold IV, duke of Austria, because of a raid against the town (von des angriffs wegen) in answer to which the duke buffered his responsibility by remitting the case to his brother, Ernest, claiming that the burghers of Sopron themselves also believed that he may have been behind the action as initiator.14 An entirely different view is reflected in a letter of a supporter of Duke Ernest, Erhart Sechel, who informed his lord of the plunders committed by the people of Sopron and the “people from the surroundings of Sopron” (gancz gegent) in Styria and Austria. Sechel, who probably was about to come to Hungary to merchandize, did not dare travel on his own, but despite his precautions, his goods were taken from him, and he himself was caught and brought to the castle of Bernstein (Pernstein).15 Accordingly, it is likely that, in the restriction of the personal freedoms of the Habsburg subjects, the castle that stood in Vas County (certainly not in the vicinity of Sopron) and its owners, the Kanizsai family, had some role. A royal diploma dating to June 1388 indicates that at the beginning of the Sigismund period, there was a practice in place of holding up (arrestatio) merchants from Vienna and Austria (mercatores de Vienna vel de Austria) at Óvár and Győr. 16 By every indication, the town of Sopron had serious conflicts with a member of the Stuchs family (mit demselben Stüchsen), who had holdings on the other side of the River Lajta around Trautmannsdorf.17 This is why, in 1408, Leopold IV was pleased that the town planned to keep peace with him and ordered his subjects not to attack the territory of the Kingdom of Hungary.18

One further change has to be noted in the first decades of Sigismund’s reign that affected the western section of the border of Hungary, namely, the final dissolution of the Árpád era border defense system. In 1391, Sigismund made a donation to László Sárói, ispán (comes) of Temes, estates in Zaránd Country in return for his service to King Louis I, king of Hungary, Queen Elisabeth, and Queen Mary since Queen Mary’s childhood.19 The ispán then exchanged these estates with the king for the estate of Güssing and the market town of Kőszeg that year. Thanks to the exchange, Sárói had an estate complex by the Hungarian–Austrian border that held the promise of major income. In addition to the market and customs incomes of Kőszeg, he also gained possession of Őr (Ewr; present-day Oberwart), Rudersdorf (Radalfalva), Kalteneck (Hydegzeg; part of present-day Bernstein), and Heiligenkreuz im Lafnitztal (Kerezthur), along with the customs collected at these places, Stegersbach (Zenthelek), with its customs and market incomes, and twenty smaller settlements.20 Sárói’s newly acquired estate complex was bordered by the River Lafnitz, which from the Sigismund-period onwards was referred to as a border river.21 Sárói, however, was not satisfied with the size of his lands, and in November, he picked out the Őrség, the area at the headwaters of the River Zala. This time, the donation hit a snag, or moreover met with opposition. As the local community, commonly referred to as Zala-defenders (universos spiculatores nostros vulgariter zalaewr nuncupatos), whose ancestors were settled in the area before the castle system became established to act as guards by the border, did not fail to express their protest and outrage. In February 1392, their delegates visited the king, who was staying at Eisenstadt, and drew his attention to the fact that László Sárói committed violations of rights when he asked for giving these people along with their lands to him, as they had not been given away by any previous kings, and they were free and were obliged with defending the country. Accordingly, they crabbed the installing of Sárói into the land. The king brought the case to the royal council, according to the decision of which Sigismund had acted rightfully when, excusing the guards from the obligation and burden of guarding the region (a iugo, conditione et onere ipsius spiculatoris servitutis), he had given them and their lands to Sárói as a donation, as they were subjects and were some extent committed to their lord (hereditarii subditi forent et conditionaliter obligati).22 Following this, on January 20, 1393, the king turned to the chapter of Esztergom and asked it to install László Sárói under the title of the previous donation to the lands of the Zalafő (Zalafew) estate and its belongings, namely Őriszentpéter (Zenthpetur), Ispánk (Yspank), Kisrákos (Rakos), Pankasz (Pankaas), Nagyrákos (Naghrakos), including its customs income, Szatta (Zatha), Szomoróc (Zomorok; part of present-day Kercaszomor), Kapornak (Kapurnuk), Hodoš (Hodoos), including its customs, and seven further settlements, despite the fact that he did not have himself installed within the given time, not having taken into account the possible objection of the defenders.23 The fate of the speculators of the Őrség, whose settlement was made possible by the order of Stephen V issued in 1270,24 was sealed with the act in February 1393. The assessment and position of guards (who originally belonged to the group of service peoples, but whose function – officium – was not to produce material goods, but rather to guard the frontier), because of their armed service in the Árpád era, was probably better than that of most service peoples.25 Some of their groups could also maintain their favorable position during the reign of the Angevin kings. In 1355, King Louis I transcribed the privilege letter of the royal guards of Őrimagyarósd confirmed by King Charles I in 1329.26 In 1327, Charles did the same with the guards who lived and owned lands between the Güssing and Berstein castles,27 and in 1339 he confirmed the freedoms and service of the royal guards of Gattendorf (spiculatores regiae maiestatis de Katha).28 The decrease of the social status of the speculators of Zala to tenant peasants is not imperative, as we know guards whose families Ladislas IV raised from the community of guards by granting them five hides of land (de consortio et collegio ipsorum speculatorum cum quinque aratris terrarum),29 and Charles I confirmed their status at the request of their descendants.30 These people first belonged to the group of servientes regis, then to the nobility, who went to war in the army led by the king (inter nobiles regni nostri computentur sub vexillo regio militantes).31 The dissolution of the aforementioned Árpád-era relic in the first decades of the reign of Sigismund cannot be solely attributed to the personal endeavors of László Sárói, but rather to the outdating of the arms of the guards on the western confines, which were not effective in the new military challenges of the fifteenth century.32 The extent to which it posed a threat for the Hungarian king or the Habsburg dukes to give a contiguous territory along the border which previously had been in royal hands to a landlord is another question. In the history of the Hungarian–Austrian border section, it was a recurrent event that either a Hungarian oligarch, using his land of significant size by the border, raided and plundered the provinces of the Habsburg dukes for decades or a noble who owned lands by the border taking advantage of the location of his holdings, partially or fully changed, from the side of Hungarian kings and swore to serve the Habsburg dukes.33

It was a general endeavor in the first decades of the Sigismund-period to settle the question of the Hungarian–Austrian border section and the desire to maintain peace on both sides of the border. With almost no exceptions, the preference was to see disputes settled through negotiations at conference tables. In the second year of his reign, in June 1388, Sigismund informed his subjects, mostly the inhabitants of Óvár and Győr, that he and Duke Albert III had decided to send some from their lords to the border (ad confinia regni, and ad limites Austriae) to negotiate and discuss the remedy, correction, and redemption of the incursions across the border, damages, harms, and discontents of the peoples of the two countries.34 On June 4, 1389, Sigismund addressed a letter from Buda to the duke informing him of his decision to appoint István Lackfi, palatine, Imre Bebek, judge royal, Leusták Jolsvai, master of the court, and Miklós Kanizsai, master of the treasury, to participate in the negotiations in question.35 Lackfi at the time, apart from being palatine, was also ispán of Moson and Győr Counties. Kanizsai also held the countships of Zala, Vas, and Sopron.36 So, because of their positions and lands, they were involved in the circumstances of the counties along the border. The document issued after the meeting has been preserved. It informs us of the negotiations of the appointees of Albert III, Hermann, count of Cilli,37 Johann von Liechtenstein marshal, Wulfing von Stubenberg, and Johannes von Dietrichstock master of forests in Austria (magister forestariorum Austrie) with the Hungarian party, which were held in Sopron on 18 June. However, one can identify a change in the delegates of Sigismund compared to those named on June 4, as instead of Leusták Jolsvai, master of the court, János Hédervári, the bishop of Győr, was present. On the Hungarian side, a prelate became a member, which as we shall see, had a tradition. According to the agreements reached at the meeting in Sopron, both rulers had to appear in person on the Day of Saint Giles (1 September) in the towns of Pressburg, and Hainburg so that the remaining disputed questions, on which no resolution had been reached, could be investigated and settled in the coming months. The two rulers and their subjects had to keep to the resolutions of the commission. It was also stated that both parties would attest that their people would not hold the subjects of the other ruler imprisoned or impede their free movement. In Sopron, resolutions were also made specifically on merchants; it was put down in writing that whoever participated in trade (whichever accepted route he took) should be able to do so as had been customary in the period of King Louis, Dukes Albert II, and Rudolf IV. If a new inequality were to raise its head, and should it appear in Hungary, it has be reported to the palatine and the master of the treasury, and if this were to happen in the lands of the Habsburgs, Johann von Lichtenstein and Wulfing von Stubenberg should be notified, the four of whom then should meet at a given place and date, and if necessary, negotiate and settle the question.38 The meeting at Sopron clearly indicates the intention of the rulers: to speed up and automatize the investigation and the remedy of the various incursions (which as noted above were frequent) by a mixed commission and to ensure that the rulers would intervene in this process only in cases of absolute necessity. The intent in the case of Sigismund could be explained by the fact that at the beginning of his reign, in order to solidify his rule in the Hungary, he was held spellbound by more important internal political difficulties than by the incursions across the borders, and he had to consider his ambitions in foreign policy, and this of course could ease the situation of the ruling Habsburg dukes as well, who frequently came into conflict with one another. However, as we shall see below, the system of the border commissions was not a Sigismund-era innovation, but rather was part of the Angevin-era legacy, as were the permanent unresolved disputes of the Hungarian–Austrian border sections.

There is no sign of the royal meeting settled for September 1 by the meeting at Sopron in the sources, and it is certain that Sigismund resided in Buda between August 20 and September 12,39 while in all likelihood Albert III was in Vienna.40 One cannot be certain that the two rulers met at all before the death of Albert III in 1395 in order to make up for the postponed meeting to negotiate the question of the border. On October 24, 1398, however, Sigismund issued a diploma at Ilok (Neunhofen), in the southern part of the country, in which he notes his agreement with the son of Albert III, Albert IV, and his cousin, the eldest member of the Habsburg family at the time, Duke William, in order to secure peace between the Kingdom of Hungary, Styria, and Austria. According to their agreement, every inhabitant of the countries in question, whether rich or poor, prelate or noble, ordinary (unedel), merchant and pilgrim, should be able to travel from these countries to the other with their goods freely, without the hindrance of his or her person or belongings. It was also stipulated that if a Hungarian subject were to lay a claim against a subject of the dukes, he would have to bring the case to the country which was legally authorized. Sigismund assured the dukes that no attack or other kind of incursions from the territory of the Kingdom of Hungary would take place in their provinces with his consent and any Hungarian subject who did not keep this agreement would be held accountable. If domestic people or foreigners caused loss and injustice in Austria or Styria and then sought protection in Hungary, the Hungarian king forbade his subjects from giving the person refuge. It was also stipulated that a subject of the Hungarian king could only buy or hold estates as pledges in Austria and Styria from that time on with the knowledge and consent of the dukes. If this were to happen against the will of the dukes, the buyer would immediately get his money back and had to eschew the property. The holdings that had already been (altes erb) in other hands, including vineyards and plow lands, (weingerten und ekerpau) however, were exceptions and could be kept without any obstacles. Finally, the Hungarian king appointed deputies who, in his absence, were entitled to serve in his stead in the disputes of the Hungarian–Austrian border section. By the border in Pozsony County (grafschefften Prespurger), Count Péter Szentgyörgyi and András Stiborici “Podczesfi,” i.e. one of the most influential noblemen in the county and the brother of the ispán of Pozsony were appointed. By Óvár (Altenburger) (indeed Moson), Sopron (Ödenpurger) and Vas (Eisenburger) counties, the as participants of the 1389 Sopron meeting already introduced János Hédervári, bishop of Győr, Miklós Kanizsai, former master of the treasury and István Kanizsai, master of the court were in charge. It is worth remembering that the latter family played a role in holding Erhart Sechel prisoner in Bernstein in 1408. And in case of a need for action on the border of the Wendish March41 and Styria, the king appointed Eberhart, bishop of Zagreb and Miklós Garai, ban of Slavonia.42 With regard to the 1398 arrangements, which mostly but not exclusively were meant to maintain peace by the Hungarian–Austrian border, some aspects are worth emphasizing. The most important of these aspects was the lack of mutuality. The points only seem to have applied to the subjects of the Hungarian kings, and only represented their perspective. It is possible that the two Habsburg dukes also issued a document similar in content which concerned their subjects; these documents, however, did not survive (if indeed they existed). The other circumstance that is worth noting concerns not the royal appointees authorized in the border issues, but the division of the border section, which also was not an innovation introduced by Sigismund of Luxemburg (I will return to this later).

As is clear from the incidents discussed above from the first decades of the fifteenth century, the 1398 arrangements certainly did not fulfill the hopes of the parties involved. This is how, in 1411, Sigismund signed a border treaty with Duke Albert V, who was freed from the guardianship. Unlike in the cases of his previous efforts, Sigismund considered an Angevin-period document signed between the two countries as an antecedent.

Antecedents from the Angevin Era

At the beginning of this article, I noted that the border treaty signed in Pressburg on October 5, 1411 renewed a document originating from the period of Louis I, Albert III, and Leopold III. The late-Angevin-period source is almost entirely unknown to historians,43 and it is known only in eighteenth-century transcriptions. It is also important to note that none of the transcriptions preserved the text in its entirety,44 so when analyzing its contents, we can only base our conclusions on the 1411 confirmation, although there are differences between the texts of the two agreements, as I will indicate in my discussion of the relevant passages.

The border treaty in question was signed in October 1372, almost on the anniversary of the armistice between Charles IV, Holy Roman emperor, and his supporters, the Austrian dukes, and the opposing Louis I, king of Hungary and Poland and his Bavarian allies, which was in effect until June 5, 1373.45 After that, in October 1372, Louis I negotiated with Charles IV on the Hungarian–Czech border. On October 16, he sat down with the Austrian dukes, Albert III and his brother Leopold III, in Sopron to settle disputes. At the Sopron meeting in 1372, similarly to the negotiations in 1389 in the same town, the focus was on the Hungarian–Austrian border section. The rulers put down in writing their intention to prevent new incursions across the border and hostilities along the border of their countries in the future. The Hungarian king vowed that neither he nor his subjects would attack the other side of the border,46 but if that were to happen, the two dukes or a duke and his master of the horse had to inform the palatine and the bishop of Zagreb at their earliest convenience, and the palatine and the bishop of Zagreb would then have two months to investigate and rectify the case.

In addition to the plundering and incursions across the border, there were other old unresolved issued concerning the border in question. These issues were negotiated six days after the Sopron meeting on October 22, in Wiener Neustadt. In the Styrian town, the rulers were represented by appointees consisting of three persons on each side; on the side of the dukes, Heidenreich von Maissau master of the cup-bearers and master of the horse, Albert von Puchheim, master of the table, and Kadold von Eckartsau, the Elder; on the Hungarian side, István Kanizsai, bishop of Zagreb (Stephan Gottes gnaden Bischof ze Agram), Imre Lackfi, the palatine (Emerich großen graff ze Hungern), and a third person unidentifiable on the basis of the transcription.47 (Lackfi is the brother of the abovementioned István, who took part in the 1389 negotiations, and also was ispán of Vas and Sopron at the time.) Based on the Hungarian members of the border commission, by the time of Sigismund’s reign the bishops of Zagreb, the Kanizsai family, and even the Lackfis must have had some experience in settling disputes by the border. The members of the commission asked Hermann, count of Cilli in consort, to have the final word in the case of a tie. The count can certainly not be identified as Hermann, count of Cilli, who participated in the meetings of 1389. Rather, it must be his father, who lived until 1385, but the Cilli counts, who then only owned lands in the territory of the Holy Roman Empire, were definitely major authorities in the questions of Hungarian–Austrian border disputes.

The decisions made on October 22, 1372 certainly addressed the issue of fishing rights (vischwaide) on the River Morava, which divided the part of Austria that fell to the north of the Danube River from Pozsony County, which according to the document on Austrian side were due to the landlords by the bank, and on the Hungarian side, the castellan of Dévénykő48 (burggraffe auf dem Tebenstain), who shared the river fifty-fifty.49 In the 1411 confirmation by Sigismund, it is clearly expressed at this point that the River Morava is the border between Hungary and Austria, and neither of the two parties can enter the territory of the other (da sol di March die grenicz und das gemerke sin zwischen Ungern und der Österreich, und sol ouch ein teyl, den andern an seinen teyle nicht ubergryffen).50 The 1372 treaty, however, held the fishing rights of those who had this privilege from ancient times. The border treaty also touched on the subjects of the dukes who owned vineyards in Hungary and put them in a position of advantage, as they did not have to pay the thirtieth on the vine they produced there, but only had to pay the tithe and the vineyard tax, (die uff dem ungrischen weingarten ligen haben, von dem das in dorynne wechset, und es sy dorinne verpawch, keinen dristigsten geben sollen, doch ussgenommen bergrecht und czehenden) which were the same as the duties paid by the Hungarian inhabitants. The arrangement made it possible for everyone who had had the right to do so from ancient times to pay the duties on vine in Viennese denars. It was also stated that the border was by the River Lajta, where the river runs along the border, but where the border and the river split, the old borders had to be kept. Hence, the order stated that no one could divert the Lajta with a ditch or dam (soll die Leutha niemand abkehrn weder mit graben noch mit wühren).51 If anyone had holdings on the Hungarian side of the border, they could not be disturbed, but if anyone had a related claim, the claim had to be made in Hungary. The same was true vice versa, i.e. the claims related to lands of the Austrian side of the Lajta had to be enforced in Austria (which reminds us of one of the points of the 1398 arrangements of Ilok discussed above). According to the treaty of 1372, the same principles were applied with regard to the fishing rights on the Lajta and other border rivers as on the River Morava. On the Hungarian side, the subjects of the Hungarian king and on the Austrian side the subjects of the dukes had the right to build mills and mill buildings (müllen und müllhäuser) by the bank. In order to provide water for the mills, the water could be backed up by dams directly upstream from the mill. However the earlier rights related to mills had to be respected. With regard to the importance of the arrangements, before 1372, there was only one treaty in the Hungarian–Austrian relationships that addressed similar questions. It was the 1225 peace treaty, which allowed Hungarian soldiers to build mills by the rivers along the border, even on both sides, but the water could not be diverted in a manner that would cause the majority of the water not to flow in the original riverbed.52 With regard to the ferry between Devín (Teben) and Rottenstein (Rotenstein), the 1372 agreement declared53 that the subjects of the Hungarian king could transport anyone and anything to the Austrian side, but they could not pick up anything or anyone at Rottenstein, as there, the men of Hans Straissing had the right to ferry to the Hungarian side, from where they could not ferry anyone or anything to the Austrian side.54 It was also stipulated that anyone had the right to choose freely what they produced on their lands. It is only included in the 1411 confirmation that punishment and fine was due if someone arrested or had somebody arrested in his lands (endhalden noch endhalden lassen soll), but in the meantime, no one could let anyone cross his lands if the man or men in question were about to threaten or attack anybody else (angryffen oder beschedigen wollte). But because of the document issued in Sopron on October 16, 1372, these stipulations may have been included in the border agreement of Wiener Neustadt as well.55 According to the 1411 confirmation, if anyone had a claim against an inhabitant of the other country, he had to announce this claim in the territory of the Hungarian and Austrian towns, according to the customs and laws, and he had to respect the laws of that country under pain of punishment. If someone failed to respect the laws of that country or committed perfidy, he joint efforts would be taken against him.56

The border treaty reached by the mixed commission in 1372 and the circumstances of its formation, namely the lack of specific regulation of the establishment and functioning of the commission, alludes to the customary nature of border commissions in settling similar disputes. Traces of this tradition go back to the last decade of the thirteenth century, to the peace treaty of Hainburg signed in 1291. The peace treaty, which put an end to the military campaign of the last Árpád ruler, Andrew III, is interesting from a number of perspectives, but in the context of the current article, the circumstances of its formation and one specific passage of the document are particular relevant.57 The treaty was reached during a meeting of a body consisting of eight representatives appointed by the two rulers on August 26 in the friary of the Friars Minor at Hainburg. Each of the two parties were represented by two clerics and two members of the lay elite.58 According to one stipulation of the treaty, the Austrian party chose two Hungarians and the Hungarians chose two Austrians and, in Styria, each party chose one person. These people were invested in the provinces in which they resided with full power to investigate, inform the ruler, chastise people who caused damages, and return the goods taken within a month of learning about the losses suffered.59 Though the text of the peace treaty indicates that four people were to be appointed at the next meeting of the two rulers, i.e. Albert I, duke of Austria, and Andrew III, there is no trace of their selection in the sources, nor is there any indication that the tasks assigned were actually performed. The plan to settle conflicts in the treaty of Hainburg can be considered a forerunner to the similar structure and purpose of the plans which were reached in the mid-fourteenth century.

The next document in chronological order which testifies to the attempts to address the issues of the Hungarian–Austrian border dates to the Angevin era. In 1336, Charles I, king of Hungary, signed an armistice with Albert II and Otto I, dukes of Austria, with the mediation of John, king of Bohemia.60 According to the document, for the period until June 8, 1337, both sides of the Hungarian–Austrian border were placed under the control of three border supervisors (tres custodes limitum), one to the north of the Danube, one to the south, and the third was in charge of the issues of the Styrian–Carniolan section of the border.61 This kind of north-south division of the border adumbrates the abovementioned 1398 Ilok arrangement of Sigismund, which basically sketched out the same triple division.

In the last years of the reign of Charles I, the conflict resolution methods envisaged by the 1291 agreement with regard to the Hungarian–Austrian border section were clearly adopted. On November 13, 1341, close to the end of his life, the king came to an agreement with Duke Albert II at Pressburg according to which they both chose three people from the counselors of the other person who would then be present on March 6, 1342 at Pressburg and Hainburg and would begin negotiations concerning the common border to investigate the losses and trespasses and remedy and make recompenses for them. The duke chose Peter, bishop of Srijem, Pál Nagymartoni, judge royal, and Tamás Szécsényi, voivode of Transylvania from the Hungarians, while the king chose Ulrich von Bergau, Ulrich von Pfannberg, and Ludwig von Otting. They also chose substitute members, Miklós Zsámboki, ispán of Turóc and Konrad von Schaunberg, so that in case of illness or absence of the members, the commission meeting would not be cancelled.62 Nagymartoni’s family had holdings in Sopron County along the border and, moreover, he had Austrian connections, as he had married the daughter of the landgrave, Albert von Pottendorf, Elisabeth.63 It is also striking that, with regard to the representatives of the king, a member of the ecclesiastic elite was on the commission. This later became a common phenomenon, while it was not characteristic of the Austrian side at all. It cannot be ruled out that the membership of a cleric on the commission was a guarantee of literacy.64 Despite the careful preparations, nothing indicates that the 1342 commission meeting actually took place.

The tendency, however, could have been promising, as Louis I, the successor of Charles I, already committed himself to setting up a mixed commission at the very beginning of his reign. Following the change of the ruler in the summer of 1342, the diplomatic overtures between the Austrian and Hungarian parties on the border section restarted in May 1345. In his diploma, issued at Visegrád, Louis stated to the subjects of the Austrian duke Albert II that he is open to providing compensation for the damages and losses caused by the Hungarian party.65 In the middle of December 1345, Louis I arrived for a meeting at Vienna, where he came to the conclusion with Albert II that they should continue and, furthermore, improve the negotiation system initiated in 1341. According to the decision of the Hungarian king and the Austrian duke (similarly to the armistice of 1336), the Hungarian–Austrian border section was to be divided into parts. (The division of the north-south positioned confines is not a fourteenth-century thought, as the structure decided in 1336 and is 1345 was almost identical to the territorial division of the former Carolingian marches.66) Furthermore, judges were ordered from both the Austrian and the Hungarian sides to preside over the border sections. Their task was to investigate and remedy the unlawful acts and damages of the previous period. Accordingly, people with territorial competence in the issues were appointed from the Kingdom of Bohemia to the Danube, from the Danube to Hartberg in Styria, from Hartberg to the River Drava, and from the Drava to the Wendish March (Marchia). To the section by the River Morava, on the Hungarian side Csenyik Ugodi Cseh, castellan of Červený Kameň, and Tamás Vörös, castellan of Újvár, were appointed, while on the Austrian side Konrad von Schaunberg and Leitold von Kuenring were chosen. To the section by the River Lajta, the aforementioned Pál Nagymartoni judge royal, whose family had local interests by the castles of Forchtenstein and Kobersdorf, and for the first time (but as we know not for the last time in the history of the border commissions), the Lackfi family was also represented, namely by István Lackfi, voivode of Transylvania. From the Austrian side, to the same area, Ulrich von Pfannberg and Eberhard von Wallsee were appointed. Along the river Lafnitz, on the Hungarian side, palatine Miklós Zsámboki and, again, judge royal Pál Nagymartoni were chosen, while on the Austrian, Ulrich von Wallsee and the Styrian Gottschalk von Neidberg had jurisdiction. For the southernmost border section, Miklós of the Hahót kin, ban of Slavonia and Cikó of Pomáz, castellan of Cheresig, were chosen, while the two Styrian nobles were Rudolf, count of Cilli (who also established the role of his family in issues of the Hungarian–Austrian border) and Ott von Liechtenstein. The mandate of the appointees lasted until February 2, 1346, by which time they had to investigate and remedy the previous alleged injustice. The importance of the case is indicated by the fact that on the Hungarian side, the most important office holders from among the barons also took part in the work. The rulers in December 1345 also thought of the long-term peace of the border sections. Namely, they also stipulated in writing that if in the future new damages were done, then the commission with jurisdiction in the area should reassemble and settle the case by coming to a decision within a month’s time. Prepared for everything, they also decided that if a commission would not be able to decide on the compensation correctly, the harmed person could not take the case in hand and seek redress or revenge, but rather should seek compensation from his lord.

At the Viennese meeting in December, decisions between the two rulers were made on further issues as well, namely on the issue of the Hungarian agricultural lands which were close to the border, with special regard to the Austrian lessees of vineyards.67 The question had been a source of tension between the two powers long before. In February 1324, Charles I took measures against the long-term Habsburg-subject lessees (a longo tempore retroacto) of lands in Moson and Sopron counties bordering the Duchy of Austria because the piece of lands called Alramus by the River Sár, i.e. the Lajta, was torn from the Hungarian king and the country (a nobis et regno nostro reputis metis nostris) by violating the border and was given as lease to Austrians.68 At the end of the same year, the king ordered the ispán of Sopron County and his vice-ispán to forbid the Austrians from using the lands of the country and the incomes from its crops (prohibeat quoslibet Australes ab usu et perceptione usus fructuum et utilitatum terrarum regni nostri). He also stipulated that Hungarians could not work in vineyards or forests and could not cultivate lands in the territory of the Kingdom of Hungary or by the River Lajta that are in Austrian hands by his or his predecessors’ grace and permission.69 The actions of Charles went against a system that had been in place for a long time by then, which let lands in lease, mostly vineyards by the border to Austrians for cultivation during which period upon paying the ordinary taxes the lessees could own their lands freely.70 The Habsburgs took all the measures to protect the interests of their subjects, so they could not bow to the aggravations of the Hungarian king, and in 1328, they got Charles I to accept Austrian lessees holding vineyards to continue vine cultivation on the border of the Kingdom of Hungary upon paying the usual land tax. It is also clear from the diploma of Albert II, duke of Austria, which settlements along the border were most interested in leasing vineyards in Hungary. On June 24, 1339, the duke gave permission to the burghers of Hainburg to bring the vine they produced or bought (pauwein und kaufwein) from harvest until the day of Saint Martin (November 11) from Hungary to Hainburg, but the latter they were not allowed to transport their goods any further than the town.71 Albert issued a permission with similar content to the burghers of Wiener Neustadt on November 8, 1342 allowing them to take the vine they produced in the Kingdom of Hungary through the Semmering Pass to Bruck an der Mur and Judenburg and through Schladming to Friesach and Rottenman.72 The 1345 agreement again provided the lessees of the vineyards of Devín (Dewen) Mountain with benefits, who from that time on did not have to pay more than half a Viennese denar as vineyard tax, which was the customary sum. In connection to this, one may recall the 1372 agreement, which specifically allowed the paying of the land tax in Viennese denars to those who had had the right since ancient times. The importance of the question of vine cultivators is well reflected by the fact that the decision dates to the same day and the renewal of the Hungarian–Austrian political alliance, and that rulers felt that they had jurisdiction in this issue.73

The system of mixed commissions set up in 1345, which was complicated in comparison with earlier attempts to address the issues at hand, became clearer when put into effect in 1372. The importance of the latter case is enhanced by the fact, that unlike on previous occasions, the commission was not only set up in writing but actually functioned in practice. The overview of somewhat more than a century in the history of the Hungarian–Austrian mixed commissions which were founded in order to maintain peace along the border offers insights into and examples of the process during which royal power shifted, in the strategies it adopted in order to address everyday and manifold breaches and dissensions which were common along the border, by negotiations rather than by military intervention. The stages of this practice can be identified in the Angevin era, from the change of perspective at the end of the reign of Charles I to the signing of the agreement of 1372. The points of the arrangement held true in the first decades of the fifteenth century, which is why it deserves special attention. Moreover, this is the first known document by neighboring rulers which set up a mixed commission. The text of the document has only been preserved in fragmented transcriptions, but its thanks to the renewal in 1411, it can be reconstructed. One of the lessons of the mixed commission system that was in charge of the Hungarian–Austrian border section is that while it aimed to unburden the rulers from decision making, it actually brought the two neighbors closer.



Archival sources

Archiv des Schottenstifts, Vienna, Austria (StiAscho)

Urkunden, Chronologische Urkundenreihe (Urkunden)

Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár [The National Archives of Hungary] (MNL)

Országos Levéltár, Budapest, Hungary [The State Archive] (OL)

Mohács előtti gyűjtemény [Collection of Documents from the Period before
the Battle of Mohács (1526)] (Q)

Diplomatikai levéltár [The Archive of Diplomatics] (DL)

Fényképgyűjtemény [The Photographic Collection] (U)

Mohács előtti fényképgyűjtemény [The Photographic Collection of
Documents from the Period before the Battle of Mohács (1526)] (DF)

Wiener Stadt- und Landesarchiv, Vienna, Austria (WStLA)

Hauptarchiv (HA)

Urkunden (Urk)


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1 On the betrothal, see Mályusz, Zsigmond király uralma, 123; Hönsch, Kaiser Sigismund, 142. On the state of Austrian internal policy: Niederstätter, Die Herrschaft Österreich, 198–99.

2 The quotations in the main text come from: MNL OL DF 287 078. Edition and summary of the document: Codex diplomaticus Hungariae, vol. 10/5, 125–30, Zsigmondkori oklevéltár, vol. 3. no. 1022.

3 Redeeming Devín certainly was not successful in 1411. In an undated memorandum that can be dated to between the autumn 1412 and the beginning of 1414, Sigismund, who was abroad, advises the ailing Stibor to take military action against Hering, who had been keeping the castle of Devín in his hands for years. In his detailed order, he suggests that it is needless to build siege bastions opposite the castle, as his bigger cannon, which, including the big ballista, was at Buda, along with Master Mihály (“non oportet, ut ec adverso castri Dewyn bastitas parare facias, quoniam bambarda nostra maior cum magna mangana seu machina, que unacum magistro Michaele Bude existunt, unde sufficiunt ad expugnacionem predicti castri…”). He furthermore ordered that the voivode, in accordance with János, archbishop of Esztergom, should call Péter Forgács, bishop of Győr, and the other royal nobles and the nobles of the neighboring counties to launch an insurrection and a siege of Devín. Heimpel, “Aus der Kanzlei Kaiser Sigismunds” 179–80. The campaign however, probably due to the death of Stibor at the beginning of 1414, was not completed. Devín finally was redeemed from Hering by palatine Miklós Garai in 1414. Engel, Archontológia 1301–1457, vol. 1. 300.

4 For the edition of the Sigismund diploma: Wenzel, Stibor vajda, 145, Zsigmondkori oklevéltár, vol. 3. no. 1085. Devín was redeemed by Sigismund from the Moravian margrave, Jodok in 1390, and probably was pledged to Hering then. Cf. Engel, Archontológia 1301–1457, vol. 1. 300. Sigismund redeemed the castle of Ostrý Kameň in 1390 from the Moravian margrave Prokop in 1390 and then donated it to Stibor Stiboric in 1394. It is not clear when was it pledged, but the castle was probably redeemed in 1411, along with Devín. Cf. Engel, Archontológia 1301–1457, vol. I. 308.

5 StiAscho Urkunden 1397-04-02. (I used the image available on Monasterium.net, where the document is under the register number: 1397 IV 12.)

6 WStLA – HA Urk no. 1882. (I used the image available on Monasterium.net.)

7 Sopron vármegye története, vol. 1. 590.

8 April 24, 1390: MNL OL DF 104 816, Zsigmondkori oklevéltár, vol. 1. no. 1463; Engel, Archontológia 1301–1457, vol. 1. 407.

9 The castle was named after their family castle in the Holy Roman Empire. In 1416, following the extinction of the Scharfeneck family, István Kanizsai took it as a pledge. A year later, he handed it on to the Wolfurts. See Engel, Archontológia 1301–1457, vol. 1. 348. and vol. 2. 261.

10 “Per creberimas invasiones predonum, profugorum et proscriptorum australium quasi ad totalem devenissent desolacionem…” Sopron vármegye története, vol. 1. 590.

11 Lampel, “Die Leithagrenze,” 126; Lichnowsky. Geschichte des Hauses Habsburg, vol. 5. CXXV–CXXVI. no. 1365.

12 MNL OL DF 287 048, Zsigmondkori oklevéltár, vol. 2. no. 2019.

13 Sopron szabad királyi város, vol. 1/1. 27.

14 MNL OL DF 201 991 (erroneously dated to May 27, 1408 in the MNL OL DL-DF database).

15 Sopron szabad királyi város, vol. 1/2. 8–9.

16 Codex diplomaticus Hungariae, vol. 10/1. 431–33.

17 It was probably Georg Stuchs. See Trauttmannsdorff, Beitrag, 78–86.

18 MNL OL DF 201 996.

19 A Balassa család levéltára, no. 196.

20 Ibid., no. 197.

21 The River Lafnitz formed the Styrian and Vas County section of the Hungarian–Austrian border between Neustift an der Lafnitz and Königsdorf. There are only few references to the river from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, and in the perambulation of Buchschachen in 1331 the river is not referred to as a border river. MNL OL DL 99 934; Anjou-kori oklevéltár, vol. 15. no. 347. The earliest reference to the river as a border river dates to 1423, when János Gersei, ispán of Vas and Zala counties, informed the noble judges that one his noblemen was attacked at Gattendorf and was taken to the Austrian border and thrown into the Lafnitz with his head tied between his legs. Arrows were then shot at him, and he was murdered with exceptional cruelty. “Ad terminos et metas Austrie deducendo et capite eius inter pedes ipsius ligato ad aquam Lapynch proiciendo…” Zsigmondkori oklevéltár, vol. 10. no. 1174, and no. 1512.

22 A Balassa család levéltára, no. 199.

23 Ibid., no. 204, and no. 206.

24 Hazai okmánytár, vol. 8. 129. The order of Stephen V issued in 1270 to the guards of Őrimagyarósd has been discussed by Attila Zsoldos, see Zsoldos, “Confinium és marchia,” 110–12.

25 Ibid., 111.

26 Anjou-kori oklevéltár, vol. 13. no. 645.

27 Codex diplomaticus Hungariae, vol. 8/3. 179.

28 Ibid., vol. 8/4. 375–76.

29 Az Árpád-házi királyok okleveleinek kritikai jegyzéke, no. 2635.

30 Anjou-kori oklevéltár, vol. 11. no. 428.

31 Az Árpád-házi királyok okleveleinek kritikai jegyzéke, no. 2635.

32 Mályusz, Zsigmond király uralma, 135.

33 On the relationship between the fourteenth-century landowners by the border and the Austrian provincial elite and dukes, see Groß, “Zur Geschichte.” On the second half of the fifteenth century and the beginning of the sixteenth, see Péterfi, Egy székely két élete; Péterfi, “A Lajtán innen.” On the Austrian connections of the Kőszegi family in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, see Skorka, “A mohó farkas.”

34 Codex diplomaticus Hungariae, vol. 10/1. 432.

35 MNL OL DF 258 468. (Photo 43–45.)

36 Engel, Archontológia 1301–1457. vol. 1. 4, 38.

37 It was Hermann II, the future brother-in-law of Sigismund, who died in 1435.

38 MNL OL DL 39 269, Zsigmondkori oklevéltár, vol. 1. no. 1063.

39 Engel and C. Tóth, Itineraria, 62.

40 Lichnowsky, Geschichte, vol. 4. DCCLXXVII. no. 2177–2184.

41 It belonged to Carniola in the second half of the fourteenth century.

42 MNL OL DF 258 005.

43 The existence of this source is only referred to in an inauguration speech to the Hungarian Academy of Sciences held by Imre Nagy on the history of the Lajta as a border river. See Nagy, “A Lajta mint határfolyam,” 459.

44 MNL OL DL 24 809 (fragment), MNL OL DL 87 470, MNL OL DF 258 468, and MNL OL DF 286 412. The quotations in the present study are from the following document: MNL OL DF 258 468 (images 39–43). The text of the transcription of the border treaty was published in printed form in 1830: Böheim, Chronik von Wiener-Neustadt, vol. 1. 96–99.

45 The conflict unfolded concerning ownership of the Margravate of Brandenburg; for the diplomatic events, see Skorka, “A Habsburgok és a magyar Anjouk,” 652–54.

46 “Wir, noch die unsern dheinen angriff newung noch ufflouf tun noch machen sullen uber die gemerke unsrer Lande…” MNL OL DF 257 995.

47 Based on the transcriptions, the name reads as Eschliniunus, or Oschlinang.

48 It is probably the same as the castle of Devín.

49 On the importance of the mills, fishing and other riparian rights in the pre-industrial period, see: Winiwarter et al., “The Environmental History,” 108–18.

50 Codex diplomaticus Hungariae, vol. 10/1. 126.

51 On the border river diversions, see the article of Bence Péterfi in the present issue of the journal.

52 Urkundenbuch des Burgenlandes, vol. 1. 101–2.

53 On the ferry between Devín and Rottenstein, see Walterskirchen, “Zur Geschichte.”

54 The name Hans Straissing is not present on the confirmation of 1411, only that of the Austrian dukes. The agreement is interesting, as in his inauguration speech to the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Imre Nagy suggested that Rottenstein belonged to the castle of Devín from “beyond memory.” Nagy, “A Lajta mint határfolyam,” 451.

55 Codex diplomaticus Hungariae, vol. 10/1. 128–29.

56 Ibid., 129.

57 On the history of the military campaign, see most recently: Skorka, Előjáték egy házasságkötéshez.

58 Ibid.

59 Codex diplomaticus Hungariae, vol. 6/1. 180–85.

60 For the antecedents to the armistice and its details, see: Skorka, “A csökkentett vámtarifájú út.”

61 Diplomataria sacra ducatus Styriae, vol. 1. 275.

62 Codex diplomaticus Hungariae, vol. 8/4. 495–97.

63 Anjou-kori oklevéltár, vol. 26. no. 184.

64 Even in the case of the treaty of Pressburg concluded in 1491 one finds examples of deputies of the Hungarian aristocracy who were illiterate. Cf. Neumann, “Békekötés Pozsonyban,” 297.

65 Codex diplomaticus Hungariae, vol. 9/7. 484.

66 Brunner,Der burgenländische Raum.” 247.

67 On the vineyards, see Prickler, “Zur Geschichte des burgenländisch-westungarischen Weinhandels;” Prickler, “Adalékok a szőlőművelés történetéhez;” Prickler, “Weingartenbesitz.”

68 Codex diplomaticus Hungariae, vol. 8/2. 536. On Alramus, see Kring, “A magyar államhatár kialakulásáról,” 14–15.

69 “Non permittendo laboratores laborare in vineis Australium quorum-cunque, nec percipere silvas vel coli alios agros suos, quos quidem Australes in regno nostro circa aquam Saar de nostra vel progenitorum nostrorum gratia et concessione hactenus possederunt.” Sopron szabad királyi város, vol. 1 /1. 87.

70 “Sub antiquo et consuetu censu et pensione solita reservamus, sine quovis impedimento colendas, et pro ipsorum usibus libere possidendas.” Anjou-kori oklevéltár, vol. 12. no. 422.

71 Lichnowsky, Geschichte des Hauses Habsburg, vol. 3. CCCCXLIII. no. 1207.

72 Ibid., no. 1317.

73 Codex diplomaticus Hungariae, vol. 9/1. 285–86.

pdfVolume 8 Issue 1 CONTENTS

Inner Territory and What Lies Behind It: An Inquiry Into the Hungarian Urban Hierarchy in 1930

Gergely Károly Bán
University of Debrecen
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The study of the emergence of the Hungarian urban hierarchy raises a number of methodological questions concerning the complex settlement structure and the unique urban development of the Carpathian Basin. Research on the Hungarian urban hierarchy reveals a strong positive correlation between the position of the cities in the hierarchy and the complexity of their urban functions. The aim of my inquiry is to provide a complex picture of the Hungarian urban hierarchy of the 1930s, or, more precisely, the potential hierarchies. I approach this issue from various perspectives. As there are different definitions of cities in judicial (administrative), statistical, economic, sociological, and geographical contexts, the questions remain open: what do we consider a city, and what makes a settlement a city in the interwar period in Hungary? One of the cornerstones of my research is the issue of the outskirts. In administrative terms, we can speak about a unit, but due to the differing patterns of urban development in Hungary, the relationship between the core territory and its periphery is complex. Since the classic homestead theory has been challenged, hierarchical investigations have had to address the problems involved in dividing the data between urban cores and urban peripheries. Hierarchic rankings based on the incorporation of outskirts are quite different from rankings which omit the latter zones, which tend to be dominated by scattered farms not linked functionally to the urban core. The differences also show strong regional patterns. This study, based on statistical data, tries to highlight these differences in the urban hierarchy using this new approach. This way, it becomes possible to put the study of the Hungarian urban hierarchy in the interwar period on a new methodological footing which differs in several significant ways from the foundations of earlier research on the subject in Hungary.

Keywords: periphery issue, settlement structure, urban hierarchy, Hungarian urban network, historical geography.

 “If society is inevitably spatial and the concept of space is impossible to separate from its social content, it not only means that social processes are to be analysed as they spatially present, but also means that what we consider to be spatial features are to be analysed theoretically and within social concepts.”1

In today’s era of interdisciplinarity, when the breakup of formal boundaries between disciplines is a common phenomenon, it is not easy to find a common language, common sets of concepts, and shared methods for different disciplines to use in their common research fields.2 A good example of this is the research on urban history, especially the research on urban hierarchies. The complexity of this research topic is illustrated by the fact that it is a relevant field and perspective of inquiry in several disciplines, including geography, history, sociology, statistics, and economics. If we were to ask which discipline offers the most relevant, most fitting definition for the city as a form of settlement, then the answer is, simply, all of them.

Any discipline that has the city within its scope of interest has had to come up with a fitting definition, fitting, at least, from their respective points of view. Understandably, each discipline identifies different factors as decisive, thus leading to different notions of the city. “In the case of a complex, complicated entity such as the city in particular, we can consider these differences natural.”3 Each discipline paints a one-sided picture of the city’s essence as it looks at the city from different angles and uses different conceptual sets to approach what it considers the most relevant feature of the city. Even if these essential factors are listed in a complex definition, the weight and the importance of them would also turn out to be differentiated at different moments in time. So, as a researcher, I cannot decide which discipline is right and which is not, because as a whole, these factors are not comparable across disciplines. “Sociology is no exception: it cannot shed light on the complex reality of the city”, Tibor Mendöl wrote in 1939.4 Sociology uses only one possible approach, and it understands the concept within its own context when grasping at the definition of city, but other perspectives are present in other disciplines, and a definition is not exclusive to any point of view.5 However, I find that the geographic approach is currently dominant in the research in Hungary.6

My long-term goal is to present a complex picture of the city hierarchy in Hungary in the 1930s. More specifically, I offer a picture of potential city hierarchies. I plan to investigate a city hierarchy and to approach the issue from several perspectives. The explanation for this is that the different disciplines work with different definitions of the city, which are definitely represented in research papers on urban history in the recent years.7 Legal (administrative), statistical, economic, sociological, and geographic concepts of the city all create different understandings of it. Why should not we talk about the definition of the city in the context of these city concepts, that is, administrative, statistical, sociological, etc. urban hierarchies. This will give way for a number of new aspects for the analysis of the settlement structure and hierarchy.

The background to the methodology I use for my urban hierarchy study, which is based on the geographic city concept, has already been published in the Rural History Yearbook8. The present work is a preliminary study, and I examine only one important methodological question: the question of the periphery, which is methodologically prominent both in geographic, sociological, and statistical urban hierarchy studies. The subject has been discussed a great deal both in works on urban geography and settlement stock,9 but it is rarely the true focus, except in studies which were written in the interwar period. A researcher who examines the Horthy-era town-farm theme can easily feel as if time has come to a standstill and the “research” has taken no steps forward. One major reason for this is that nowadays there is very little interest in similar issues and studies among professionals and readers alike. There is no question, however, that very little is known about the subject in a contemporary setting. It is essential that we re-approach the question, as further study could result in a better understanding of the hierarchical network of cities between the two world wars.10

Based on the factors outlined above, I find it justified to incorporate new approaches and methods into the research of the town-city relationship system and the city hierarchy between the two world wars. This allows us to get closer to the actual state of things.

The questions remain open: where does the periphery belong? How did the periphery affect the hierarchical ranking of the settlements between the two world wars? My aim in this preliminary study is to answer these questions empirically.

Periphery or Boondocks

The centuries-old history of the evolution of the “scattered farm” of the plains, by the nature of its complexity, has yet to be clearly unraveled. In the interwar period, ethnographer István Györffy hypothesized that the appearance of these “scattered farms” could be connected with the nomadic lifestyle of Hungarian settlers during the so-called Conquest.11 On the basis of this hypothetical connection, he derived the distinctive type of Hungarian city known as the “Alföld country town.” His position was that these cities used to be “two internal plot” (“két beltelkes”) so-called hutch-garden (“ólas-kertes”) settlements, which he thought to be the predecessors of the later scattered farm cities. His perspective was widely accepted by historians, geographers, ethnographers, and sociologists, so this concept became widespread. The idea that Kecskemét might also have been “two internal plot” settlements once came up,12 although no evidence has emerged to this day in support of this theory. Furthermore, the earliest maps which allow for morphological comparison suggest that it is unpersuasive. Also, at the end of the eighteenth century, quite a few plains settlements had this two inlot system. One could hardly base the notion that this was a prevailing system solely on the other two of the three cities in question, Cegléd and Nagykőrös, which exhibit this form. In recent years, the formation of the farms has been seen in new light thanks to István Orosz’s research on the Modern period land use of these farms on the plains.13 It shows that at the start of the eighteenth century, at least 107 settlements were listed on the Great Hungarian Plains where “parlagoló14 agriculture was present, and plough fields and grasslands alternate systematically. Typically, a third of the land was used in a “parlagoló” system because communities on plains which were used to support livestock found it easier to renew grasslands using this method. One precondition of this was to have extended borders (because without extended borders, the “migration” of plough fields and hayfields was impossible to execute) and also to keep the population low in relation to these borders. The latter was important, since a growing population caused the grasslands to shrink with the extension of plough fields. Therefore, with a growing population, “parlagoló” systems only remained feasible as long as the land could be extended beyond the borders by the inclusion of new fields (plains). As the population of the Great Plain grew steadily in the eighteenth century, there were two main options for the “parlagoló” settlements; either to rent or buy new plains like Kecskemét or, if this was not possible, to give up “parlagolás” (often due to outside pressure). Whichever option was chosen, due to the growing demand for grains, further fields had to be cultivated, facilitating and speeding up the spread of farms on the borders. Farms existed even before the eighteenth century, mostly as a consequence of the “parlagoló” system. The use of a “parlagoló” system meant that a farmer’s land remained a single unit (as opposed to pressure cultivation), and this was both an indispensable prerequisite of modern agriculture and also allowed for the development of scattered farm agriculture. It is hardly a coincidence, then, that the boundaries of nineteenth-century scattered farm agriculture coincided with the spread of the earlier “parlagoló” system on the plains.15

The economic function of agrarian gardens changed seasonally. From spring to late autumn, they were was used for plant production, but in winter they were used to keep animals, and the food accumulated during the year provided food for the animals in the cold months. The agrarian garden under cultivation is known as a hibernacle. Early in the spring, the animals were kept on the fresh lawn between the gardens until April, when farmers were obliged to take their livestock out to the common pastures (and they faced punishment if they failed to do so). It is therefore evident that these agrarian gardens were one part of the estate. They lay on the city’s borders, and they were privately owned. These properties were often called moneyed gardens in the common parlance, as they were freely given and sold. Most of them lay on the southern boundary, beyond the inner Pasture belt, on the urban land, but there were also agrarian gardens in the west, on the border of the village of Nyíri and in Talfáj, which is the northern area of the city of Kecskemét today. All of them used to be moneyed agrarian garden, or at least the sources indicate that buildings (agricultural) had been erected on them by the seventeenth century. The construction of these kinds of building on land used for this purpose, however, only became common practice at the beginning of the eighteenth century.16 Quite a few of these properties also had dug wells, which increased the value of the estates. The water from these wells was consumed by the workers on the scattered farm, but from November to April, the wells were used to provide water for the animals, though it may also have been used for irrigation in smaller quantities. By the eighteenth century, large livestock farms gave the city its main economic profile. The domestic animals (milking cows, work stock) were usually kept close to the city and placed on the inner pastures. The animals intended for sale for their meat were placed on distant and rented plains, and they were brought closer to the town just before sale. Large herds were needed to keep huge supplies of livestock. When a city rented out fields, the better-quality parts with softer soil were separated and were distributed between the cattle and horse owners. The so called “livestock owner” (marhásabb) farmers were given whole hibernacles, and the less wealthy were given smaller parts. These agrarian gardens on the plains were called “scattered farms donated by the town”.17 The enclosed parts were then cultivated, ploughed, sown, or mowed. Like the “moneyed agrarian gardens” (pénzes mezei kert) in the city borders, they were hibernacles and were considered prohibited lands. Since agrarian gardens built on rented plains were not the property of Kecskemét, in general no buildings were constructed on them, given the renting conditions.

Due to the different ownership situation, the two types of agrarian garden differed not only in appearance but also in function. Though both the “moneyed agrarian gardens” (pénzes mezei kert) and the “city’s donation gardens” could be embodied. (The latter only until the lease over the plains lasted.) The sources indicate that the agrarian gardens that were formed in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and had different agricultural buildings erected and wells dug on them began to be called scattered farms to differentiate them from the town’s gift agrarian gardens, which had much simpler functions. In fact, in these “moneyed agrarian gardens” (pénzes mezei kert) it is possible to recognize the later (nineteenth and twentieth century) scattered farms, which were based on plant production. The spectacular rise in the number of gardens accelerated the transformation of gardens by the fact that, due to bad weather conditions in the area, it was necessary to produce the necessary wheat locally. Within the given geographic and economic context, the only viable route for this was to break up lands that were previously had not been tilled or cultivated. However, given the lower quality of the less-bound sandy soils of these lands, their capacity for production was exhausted after a few years of field cultivation, and most of them were not suitable for grazing for a long time. With the transformation of the methods of land use, the surrounding sand became mobile and began to move, a process which was significantly accelerated by climate change. The eighteenth century bore witness to warmer and drier weather in the area, as a result of which Lake Fertő was already low in the 1720s and even dried up twice, first in 1740 and then in 1773.18 The limited extent of arable land, the narrowing of the pastures, the inability to rent new plains which could be used for planning and grazing, and the warming of the climate after 1745 all contributed to a shift in the second half of the eighteenth century, as scattered farms became increasingly numerous on the borders. This process was captured as a snapshot of maps by the first military survey. With the transformation of “moneyed agrarian gardens” (pénzes mezei kertek), a new kind of farm management emerged based not on animal husbandry but plant production. This process was promoted by planting forests and orchards, viticulture, and last but not least, peaking grain prices from the middle of the nineteenth century. Additional momentum was brought by the appearance of the railroad.19

If we move to a specific conceptual background, it can be seen that all disciplines have put the scattered farm in different contexts, and everyone has approached the concept from a different perspective, just like the concept of the city, as mentioned in the introduction. Offering a definition, however, is always a perilous gesture, as any definition assigns significane to some aspects while apparently excluding others. Scattered farms have been examined from the perspectives of public administration (law), geography, sociology, economics, and ethnography.20 In this case, I present two types of definitions: geographic and sociological.

Geography has basically a landscape-oriented approach. Settlements are examined from the perspective of the relationship between man and landscape. In addition, the landscape itself offers opportunities for people in the given space, and geographers also consider how these opportunities are utilized by the people living there. The first researcher who looked at Nyíregyháza’s “bush formation farms” (bokortanyák) from the perspective of geography and gave a definition of them was Gyula Simkó. He was followed by a number of geographers, including Tibor Mendöl. Of the geographic approaches I am going to mention, the definition of certain communities as “scattered settlement” (szórványtelepülés) is one. In most cases, these farms were permanently inhabited by colonies, though administratively these colonies belonged to a particular settlement but formed a separate landscape.21 This interpretation of the scattered farm as a settlement within a settlement constituted a new approach.

The sociological approach, represented by Ferenc Erdei, contrasts with the notion of some cohesion between the scattered farm and the settlement (town/village) and suggests instead a geographic concept: the accessory settlement. This settlement is commonly referred to as an agricultural area within the living space of a given settlement. According to Erdei, the scattered farm was only of economic importance, and the place of residence was only secondary, because the actual homes of these lands as temporary domiciles were within the inner city. In addition, the established road network itself constituted another important argument for the relevance of the sociological approach. There was little to no connection between the farms, as in most cases the roads only led to the given settlement/town.22

To sum up, the two disciplines approached the economic and social factors of the farm and the city itself from different perspectives. The main starting point for the scattered farm is the extent to which it could be said to constitute a long-term form of settlement: periodically or permanently. Given these differences in perspective, it was only a matter of time before the representatives of the two disciplines arrived at varying interpretations of the scattered farm.

Given the uniqueness of the scattered farms (as settlement types), there is little mention of it in the international secondary literature, but the question of the Hungarian scattered farm and the outside area has attracted the attention of some foreign researchers, most notably, that of Berlin historian Konrad Schünemann (1901–1940). Professor A. N. J. Den Hollander has also written an accomplished book and some articles about the Hungarian Great Plain.23 This book is a rarity in this series of historical, sociological, and ethnographic works. In Hungary there is very rich secondary literature on the scattered farm.24 A smaller library could be filled with the scholarly works in Hungarian on this subject. A 1786 book by Samuel Tessedik comes to mind,25 and the works by the aforementioned Ferenc Erdei and Tibor Mendöl are also worth mentioning. Erdei and Mendöl both dealt with domestic farm research, and in some cases they differed significantly in their views. 26 In this paper, I focus more on empirical research.

The Methodology of the Research

My inquiry focuses on one specific moment in the history of Hungary: 1930, when a census was taken. By then, the situation of the country had stabilized after a period of relative economic prosperity (1925–29). These four years had been characterized by rapid growth.27 The world economic crisis (1929–1930) only caused stagnation at first, but a significant decline began in 1931.

One of the cornerstones of my preliminary study is that I separate the data concerning the inlot downtown and the data concerning the total area (the administrative town), so I set up two separate hierarchical ranges. Thus, the two territorial units are empirically comparable. This perspective is provided by the diverse development of the settlements in the country. I am referring to the differences between the settlements in the Great Plain and the settlements in Transdanubia and western parts of the country, but in a larger context I would also mention the differences between Eastern European and Western European urban development.28 Another important methodological background for this model is that the analysis of the population size and employment structure of settlements which contain outskirts between the two world wars does not necessarily reflect the real characteristics of the city network. Rather, it reflects the ideas of less well-informed researchers who leave out of consideration the critical analysis of historical statistical data.29

The point of view of the research topic is not completely unprecedented. However, the previous works,30 in contrast with my study, only accomplished the separation of the external and internal territory in a representative settlement layer, namely cities with legal implications.

In the course of my research, I used the “inventory” method31 to set up two hierarchies. I collected the data from the various censuses at the settlement level. Consequently, two complex databases containing quantified data have been constructed. It was important to create artificial variables which are available in central statistical records both for the inlot and for the whole area of the settlements

However, I must emphasize that for the year in question (1930), we do not have the same quantity and quality of settlement-level data sets as provided by the census in the beginning of the century. Therefore, given the current state of research, more complex internal indicators cannot be included.

The works of József Nemes Nagy32 and Pál Beluszky33 provided additional data which helped add to the mathematical and statistical basis of my inquiry. Furthermore, concerning the statistical sources, I should mention the central documents that were prepared for public access and are the basis of any research concerning twentieth-century Hungarian town networks or city hierarchies. These documents include the publications of the Hungarian Royal Hungarian Central Statistical Office, the gazetteer for the given years, and the various national economic and demographic data series, which are in many cases available in digital form34 today.

First, I grouped data from Hungary’s gazetteer of 1930, which recorded data for settlements with more than 1,000 residents. According to Beluszky’s research,35 we can talk about urban settlements in functional terms (“functional towns”) above 10,000 inhabitants in the Great Hungarian Plain and over 4,000 inhabitants over the Transdanubia in the 1910s. First, I focused on settlements with populations over 2,000, but later I thought it would be worth expanding the survey with data concerning settlements with smaller populations, considering that the modeling of small towns and near-urban processes can be particularly important in the study of peripheries. Accordingly, I lowered the population threshold so that my research would include more settlements and thus become broadly representative. With this shift, 1,634 settlements were recorded in the database, which was found to be a sufficient number compared to the total of 3,422 settlements36 (48 percent). Thus, the first step consisted of recording the names of the settlements and their populations.

For the next step, I used the 86th edition of the New Series of Hungarian Statistical Publications, which provided a large amount of data for my research. I recorded the number of inhabitants and the employment structure of the inlot of each settlement using the data from this volume. I also used this volume to record the abovementioned indicators at the administrative level. As I had used the data concerning the main employment groups, it was possible to determine the proportion of non-agricultural earners mathematically. This was important, because along with tertiarization, the proportion of the secondary sector37 was also an important factor in the evolution of a more urban existence. In addition, the use of the significance of surplus services formula has made it possible to establish the “rural part” of services. This method is one of the decisive methodological elements of Beluszky’s “inventory process,” which is based on the fact that the city is a rural provider. Consequently, the central role is based on the “surplus” service provided to the countryside. The aforementioned Walter Christaller also used this method in his research in southern Germany. The popularity of the theory notwithstanding, it is worth mentioning that the method itself may lead to distortions in certain cases, so we have to use it with caution. On the basis of the formula38 of the theory, we can conclude that the population belonging to the settlement is part of the agglomeration, like the area outside the administrative boundaries. Consequently, we must use this method together with methods which consider the population of the settlement or area. If this value is negative for a given settlement (see table), this means that the settlement cannot provide for its own population in the services sector. However, if it is positive, it will supply potential users beyond its own population. There was a plan to use a financial indicator, but the construction of the variable failed due to methodological problems. Between the two world wars, during the “fiókosítási program,”39 deposit data concerning “smaller sub-offices” (alfiókok) in certain settlements appeared in the central account censuses. This makes it practically impossible to record the settlements’ deposits.

In summary, the two databases contained six variables, three in the inlot and three in the total area database. The average of the variables gave the complex value which determined the hierarchy. Accordingly, the following variables are included in the two databases:

• Inlot population

• Total area population

• Inlot proportion of non-agricultural earners

• Total area proportion of non-agricultural earners

• Inlot significance of surplus services

• Total area significance of surplus services

Since there are different types of variables (population, ratio, etc.), I have unified the variables using a mathematical method. The method used was the formula for normalization,40 which prevented the creation of negative numbers and allowed the variables to be unified.

For this time-horizon, according to the present state of the research, we do not have the quantity and quality of inlot data sets to increase the complexity of this study. I could mention the financial indicator as an example. It is also important to note that the so-called total area database is made only for a representative purpose in order to examine the hierarchy of the two areas based on the same methodology and variables. However, this database is not properly complex, as the number of the indicators shows. Nevertheless, in this case, this function is not primary.

Finally, after the creation of the two databases and the two hierarchies, the positions were compared. Thus, I have constructed a brand new hierarchy for the inlot area at settlement-level, for which there was no example in Hungary in former researches. The two hierarchies make it possible to compare the differences and similarities between the inlot and the administrative positions in the period between the two world wars.

I would like to emphasize that I have created only one possible context in which to study the inlot area’s hierarchy with this methodological model. Understandably, there are as many methodological approaches as there are results.41

Placing Results in Context

More and more research has been done on this subject, and it has been necessary to isolate the external areas in the urban hierarchy. I am thinking of the work of Lajos Timár42 and Zsolt Szilágyi.43 However, the research that was done was only partial, as it only concerned settlements which were cities in legal terms.

In this inquiry, I open a new perspective on the issue, because I have completed the separation of inlot and outskirts on nearly 1,600 municipalities at the settlement level.

According to my a priori assumption, the separation of the external area adversely affects the position of these country towns of the Great Hungarian Plain. The results will be explained on two levels: on the one hand per se, and the on the other, the overall ranking of the inlot results. During the investigation, I omitted Budapest, since studies of Budapest in the year in question (1930) have already been done.

As can clearly be seen from the ranking table (Table 2), the internal hierarchy study confirmed the leading position of Debrecen after Budapest between the two world wars. I had arrived at this conclusion in the course of my previous examination as well. One of the concerns about this result was the role/prestige of the inhabitants of the city and the function of the city. The importance of the city grew in 1920, when the city of Oradea was made part of Romania in accordance with the Treaty of Trianon. The regional centers of Miskolc, Győr, Szeged, and Pécs were also included in my comparison.

Territorially, as can be seen on the map (Map 1), the leading settlements cover up the regions of Hungary, so we can say that the contrived hierarchy study in the field is more evenly distributed. The relativity is manifested as long as there is a regional center (Győr) and two county centers (Szombathely and Sopron) in the northwestern part of the country, with a distance of nearly 100 km separating them. But the area between the Danube River and the Tisza has no regional centers. This may be due to the development of a dynamic agglomeration zone to the west and northwest in response to economic and political developments. This area lies towards Vienna, and it reaches the border of the state. In addition, the city of Sopron got into the top ten settlements in this region (in my urban hierarchy).44 Furthermore, the advance of Budapest’s agglomeration is observable. In this case, the first twenty settlements included Újpest, Rákospalota, and Budafok. The positions of these cities are also well reflected in the aura of the capital and its outstanding role within the domestic settlement network (Map 1).

I have highlighted ten former country towns from the inlot ranking.45 Taking into account the positions of these cities, we can conclude that four of them rank among the first 15. In the case of these five settlements (Debrecen, Szeged, Kecskemét, Szolnok, Nyíregyháza), it is not clear that the unplugging of the external area would have affected them drastically. Using the same methodology, I also made an administrative (“total area”) ranking. This makes it possible to reconstruct the differences between the inlot and the total area hierarchies. It is important to mention that a significant position change was observable in the field of the vanguard (top10). Only in the case of two settlements, Debrecen and Szeged, remained the rankings the same (Table 1). Regarding the differences in the two urban hierarchies, the position of the inlot in the ten investigated cities was proven to be stronger, with the exception of Debrecen and Szeged. The conclusion is that in these predominantly agricultural-minded cities, the importance of the external area is insignificant in this time horizon. Moreover, the periphery is significantly weakened by the hierarchy position of former country towns. However, it is also noticeable that the scale of these derogations is highly variable. There are certain country towns with appreciable or moderate position changes (compare it to Kecskemét with 15, Gyula with 51 and Orosháza with 81 position changes etc.). Further anomalies can be observed in the table of rankings (Table 1). In particular, if one compares the first twenty settlements in the two lists of rankings, one observes that the significant increase, can only be detected in the agglomeration of the capital. Comparing the two rankings, I have found that the settlements in the vicinity of Budapest can be described by the increase in their overall area rankings. Yet at the beginning of the twentieth century, Hungarian industry, which was focused in Budapest, was characterized by a high degree of territorial concentration. At that time, Budapest had emerged as the country’s largest economic center, and the growth of the agglomeration was fast paced (Map 1).46

Finally, to offer answers to the questions raised in the introduction, it can be stated that the (hierarchic) ranking of an urban settlement is greatly influenced by the data of the peripheral areas (outskirts, farms), and not only in the settlements of the Great Plain. In this study, we can conclude that the periphery is not an integral (functional) part of the settlement. It was found that in all cases when this is possible, data on inlots should be calculated and used in hierarchic investigations in order to avoid distortions caused by different patterns of urban development.


Overall, we can conclude that the city hierarchy of Hungary between the two world wars is an extremely complex field of research which creates an interdisciplinary space between historical science and geography. This complexity determines the methodology, though the result of this kind of research is also significantly influenced by the use or exclusion of certain methods. Furthermore, the domestic aspect of the subject itself is diverse and reflects on a number of areas that point in new directions which have not yet been pursued in the secondary literature. I am thinking, for instance, of research into quality of life, for which the necessary data are available, or studies on development, for which the HDI47 has to be adjusted. However, in my opinion, it would be more important to involve this indicator at the lower hierarchy levels, as the introduction of this new variable would not be sufficiently desirable for the higher-ranking settlements. The abovementioned methodological problem is difficult to comprehend in a domestic context between the two world wars, but research done according to this method would help further our understanding of a number of economic and social processes in villages.

With regard to the whole database, there are three important aspects missing from the related research. One would be a financial / economic dimension, which would place local interest rates in the center of the study at settlement level. This way, there should be two relevant financial indicators ready for the database. Also, while doing my research, I had the idea of adding data concerning literacy rates to the database, as this kind of data is often used in modernization studies (HDI, for example). However, in this case, it would make more sense to use this indicator at the lower hierarchy levels in my opinion, as the introduction of this new variable would not result in sufficient dispersion-deviation within settlements of higher rank. There is no doubt, however, that it provides a partial solution to the aforementioned methodological problem, and it would facilitate drawing distinctions at lower hierarchy levels.

I believe this study on modernization would be relevant to our understanding of small town and near-small settlements. Additionally, the so-called dispersion (Std. Deviation) value could turn out to be an important tool in determining the “scoring” variables of institutions, lawyers, and doctors.48 This would allow us to assign institutions hierarchy levels.



Printed sources

Az 1920. évi népszámlálás I: A népesség főbb demográfiai adatai. Magyar Statisztikai Közlemények 69. [In 1920. Annual Census I. The major demographic data of the population. Hungarian statistical announcements 69] Magyar Királyi Központi Statisztikai Hivatal. Budapest, 1923.

Az 1930. évi népszámlálás II: Foglalkozási adatok. Községek és külterületi lakotthelyek szerint, továbbá az ipari és kereskedelmi nagyvállalatok [In 1930. Annual Census. Part II. Occupational data. Local inhabitants, as well as industrial and commercial corporations.]. Magyar Statisztikai Közlemények. Új sorozat. 86. Magyar Királyi Központi Statisztikai Hivatal, Stephaneum Nyomda Részvénytársaság, Budapest, 1934. [MSK Ús. 86. kötet]


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Beluszky, Pál. “Az ‘Alföld szindróma’ eredete: vázlat” [Origin of Great Plain syndrome: A sketch]. Tér és Társadalom 2, no. 4 (1988): 3–28.

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Szilágyi, Zsolt. Homokváros: Kecskemét történeti földrajzi látószögek metszetében [Sand city: Kecskemet intersect of historical geographical angles]. Kecskemét, 2012.

Szilágyi, Zsolt. “A történeti földrajz mint kapcsolattudomány alkalmazása a magyar várostörténet-írásban” [Application of historical geography as a link to Hungarian urban history writing]. Nagyerdei Almanach 4, no. 1 (2013): 183–204.

Szilágyi, Zsolt. “Kecskemét történeti földrajza”. In Kecskemét Várostörténeti Atlasz 7 [Kecskemét historical geography in the Modern Age. Kecskemét Urban History Atlas no. 7]. 2019. Chapter 7.

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Timár, Lajos. “Az alföldi és dunántúli városok szociális arculata két világháború között” [The social image of the plains and Transdanubian urbans between the two World Wars]. In Kárpát medence, edited by Róbert Győri, and Zoltán Hajdú. 42–55. Budapest: 2006.

Tomka, Béla. Gazdasági növekedés, fogyasztás, életminőség: Magyarország nemzetközi összehasonlításban az első világháborútól napjainkig [Economic growth, consumption and quality of life: Hungary’s international comparison from World War I to the present]. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 2011.

Tóth, József. “Tér- és időbeli sajátosságok a magyar városodásban, 1870–2010” [Space and time features in Hungarian urbanization]. In Dimenziók térben és időben, edited by László Bokor, Tamás Szelesi, and Róbert Tésits. Pécs: Publikon Kiadó, 2011.



Table 1

Hierarchical rank differences between the two territorial units surveyed in 1930

Ranking (inlot)




Ranking (based on total area)



















































































Table 2

The inlot urban hierarchy of Hungary in 1930


Name of settlement





Internal population (1930)

The proportion of non-agricultural earners in the area (1930) %

Significance of surplus services (person)

Inlot urban hierarchy complex indicator (based on normalized values)




















































































































































































































































































































Hungarian urban hierarchy in 1930

(Internal variables to a total area)



Name of settlement





Population (1930)

The proportion of non-agricultural earners in the area (1930) %

Significance of surplus services (person)

Urban hierarchy complex indicator (based on normalized values)













































































































































































































































































































1 Massey, Spatial Division of Labour.

2 Beluszky and Győri, “A város a láz a nyugtalanság.”

3 Tóth, “Tér- és időbeli sajátosságok a magyar városodásban,” 55.

4 Mendöl, “Az alföldi városokról,” 218.

5 Ibid., 218–19.

6 Bácskai and Nagy, Piackörzetek, piacközpontok; Timár, Vidéki városlakók; Beluszky and Győri, Magyar városhálózat.

7 Bácskai, “Vas megye várostörténeti munkáinak,” 137–52.

Gyáni, A város mint zárt és nyitott tér, 205–20.

8 Bán, Város, hierarchia, pozíció.

9 Timár, “Az alföldi és dunántúli városok,” 42–55; Beluszky and Győri, Magyar városhálózat; Beluszky, “Az Alföld szindróma;” Erdei, Magyar Tanya; Mendöl, “Az alföldi városokról,” 217–32.

10 Szilágyi, “Város és tanya kapcsolata.”

11 Györffy, Magyar tanya, 72–76.

12 Szilágyi, Kecskemét várostörténeti atlasz, 10–11.

13 Orosz “Parlagoló földművelés az Alföldön,” 2014. – We are saying thank you to Professor István Orosz for his manuscript.

14 Hungarian soil shifter agricultural system in which one part remains unsown.

15 Orosz, Parlagoló földművelés, 14–15.

16 Czettler, A tanyakérdés, 443–446.

17 Szilágyi, Kecskemét várostörténeti atlasz.

18 Rácz, “Magyarország környezettörténete,” 200.

19 Szabó, “A kecskeméti szőlő- és gyümölcstermesztés,” 6.

20 Erdei, Magyar tanya.

21 Erdei, Magyar tanya, 22–24.

22 Erdei, Magyar tanya.

23 Den Hollander, Az Alföld települései és lakói; Den Hollander, The Great Hungarian Plain: a European Frontier Area (I-II).

24 Szabó, A debreceni falurendszer; Erdei, Magyar Tanya; Györffy, Magyar falu, magyar ház; Szabó, A kecskeméti szőlő- és gyümölcstermesztés.

25 Thessedik, A paraszt ember Magyar Országban.

26 See the discussion: Mendöl, “Néhány szó az alföldi városokról,” 217–32; Mendöl, Egy könyv a magyar faluról, 204–8; Mendöl, Megjegyzések Erdei Ferenc, 113–15; Erdei, Magyar tanya; Erdei, Tanyás települések földrajzi szemlélete, 103–13; Publications about the discussion: Timár, “Sociology and Geography,” 86–92; Timár, “Vidéki városlakók,” 49–51; Timár et al., “Vita a magyar városokról,” 617–28; Szilágyi, “Város és tanya kapcsolata.”

27 Tomka, Gazdasági növekedés, fogyasztás.

28 Timár, Az alföldi és dunántúli városok, 42–55; Erdei, Magyar tanya; Gyáni, A város mint nyitott és zárt tér, 205–20.

29 Timár, “Az alföldi és dunántúli városok,” 42–55.

30 Erdei, Magyar Tanya; Mendöl, Az alföldi városokról, 217–32; Mendöl, Megjegyzések Erdei Ferenc, 113–15; Timár, Szociológia és geográfia.

31 conf. Beluszky and Győri, Magyar városhálózat, conf. Gál Zoltán, “A magyarországi városhálózat vizsgálata,” 50–65; conf. Major Jenő, “A magyar településhálózatról,” 32–65.

32 Nemes Nagy, Terek, helyek, régiók, 51–57.

33 Beluszky and Győri, Magyar városhálózat, 93–102.

35 Beluszky and Győri, Magyar városhálózat.

36 On the capital city, see Hajdú 2005, 150. Cf. Latest 1992, 187.

37 The particular branches included in the Statistical Bulletin have been classified into the basic economic sectors accepted by the reviewed geography following the methodology below. The primary sector contains the primary producers, who were mining and metallurgical workers, while the secondary sector was composed of the industry workers and day-labourers. The tertiary sector was the most extensive, including the workers involved in commerce and credit; transport; civil service and liberal professions; armed forces; house seekers, and, finally, the fourth, the so-called other group, the retired; other and unknown employees. Szilágyi 2012, 111.

38 Significance of surplus services formula (K): K=Fv–Lv∙Fm/Lm; Fv: the commercial turnover of the studied settlement; Fm: commercial turnover of the studied area; Lv: number of population in the studied settlement; Lm: number of population in the studied area.

39 Several smaller sub-offices which belonged to the central sub-office in the interwar period.

40 Normalization formula: ni=(xi – xmin ) – (xmax – xi) ; ni: normalized variable; xi: variable of the dataset; xmax: maximum of datas; xmin: minimum of datas.

41 Bán, “Magyarország városhierarchia-vizsgálatának módszertani kérdései,” 9.

42 Timár, Az alföldi és dunántúli városok, 45.

43 Szilágyi, Város tanya kapcsolata, 10.

44 Győri, “Bécs kapujában,” 231–51; Tóth, Tér- és időbeli sajátosságok.

45 Debrecen, Szeged, Kecskemét, Szolnok, Békéscsaba, Gyula, Hódmezővásárhely, Kiskunfélegyháza, Nyíregyháza, Cegléd.

46 Győri and Mikle, A fejlettség területi különbségeinek változása, 151.

47 Human Development Index, created by the UN.

48 Beluszky, “Adalékok a magyar településhierarchia változásaihoz,” 331.


pdfVolume 7 Issue 3 CONTENTS

Peacetime Changes to the Landscape in Eighteenth-Century Transylvania: Attempts to Regulate the Mureş River and to Eliminate Its Meanders in the Josephine Period

Dorin-Ioan Rus

University of Graz

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The article focuses on the attempts of Habsburg authorities in eighteenth-century Transylvania to regulate the Mureş River and eliminate its meanders in order to improve salt and timber transport to Hungary and the Banat region. These attempts ultimately led to changes in the landscape of the province by reshaping riverbanks and removing their vegetation. These changes were prompted by the need to change the type of transport vessel as a result of the timber crisis. To this end, specialists from Upper Austria were brought to build the new softwood vessels that were cheaper and corresponded with the characteristics of the Mureş River. The engineer Mathias Fischer was appointed project leader. He also initiated and planned cleaning operations on the river. The article also presents the work methods and machines employed during these operations and discusses the failed operation to eliminate the meander at Ciugud. In addition, the efforts of the Transylvanian Gubernium and Salt Office led to the accelerated development of towns such as Alba Iulia and Topliţa.

Keywords: environmental history, river regulation, landscape changes, early modern era, timber trade, salt trade

In the eighteenth-century, many West European states initiated canal building and river regulation projects. They were promoted and carried out in order to increase agricultural output as well as to protect agricultural land and human settlements from floods. In addition, they played a significant role in preventing and reducing the spread of epidemic diseases among humans and animals alike.1

Navigable rivers played an important role in transportation. The expansion of internal waterways was an essential requirement for the economic development of pre-industrial societies. Before the planned expansion of the road network and the emergence of railways, rivers and canals had been the main transportation routes for natural products and resources. Transportation costs over water were cheaper than over land, especially given that the poor state of roads was a serious hindrance to traffic.

River regulation and river bank stabilization greatly contributed to the expansion of internal waterways. Thus, many river sections were straightened by eliminating meanders and deepened by removing sediment through dredging, and river banks were stabilized, which not only made the passage of ships smoother, faster, and safer, but also reduced the risk of floods.

The main focus of this study is how the landscape of the Mureş River changed in the context of the eighteenth-century timber crisis and the efforts made by the Habsburg state—central and local authorities alike—to achieve this change, and how it impacted economic growth and human settlements.

In the second half of the eighteenth century, Transylvania went through a timber crisis. Due to the reduction of wood resources and an increase in their price, the Transylvanian Gubernium decreed that, instead of hardwood, softwood should be used in shipbuilding. The new task of shipbuilding was given to Upper Austrian masters.2 One of the most critical measures that the Gubernium took was to regulate the Mureş River based on the model of the Traun River in Upper Austria. Austrian specialists viewed this river as a model for Transylvania because its course and discharge were similar to those of the Mureş River.3 Their aim was to accommodate the new salt ships made of softwood timber. As a result, significant material efforts were made to eliminate all potential obstacles and meanders on the river, which could damage the salt ships and implicitly their precious cargo, as well as hinder the transportation of other resources from Transylvania to Hungary, such as timber and military matériel.

The first part of the article deals with the technologies used in the cleaning of the Mureş River in 1779, discussing the issues that emerged during this operation and its environmental impact. In parallel with this dredging operation, they also attempted to improve the waterway by stabilizing the riverbanks and removing obstacles, such as rocks, trees, mills, and bridge ruins. The navigable section of the Mureş River extended from Mirislău (Miriszló in Hungarian) to Zam (Sameschdorf in German, Zám in Hungarian) where it left Transylvania, flowing into the region of Banat. This operation involved the local town halls from the provinces adjoining the Mureş River, such as Transylvania, the Banat, and Hungary, as well as engineers, a local workforce, and representatives from Vienna.

The final part discusses the operation to eliminate meanders, which mainly targeted the area around Ciugud (Schenkendorf in German, Csügöd in Hungarian), close to the Alba Iulia fortress, in 1786. The so-called “Limba” (Tongue) meander was the first to be eliminated. However, because there was no hydrotechnician to run the operation, it was carried out inexpertly and in an improvised manner, which ultimately made it unsuccessful. In the end they were forced to move the village instead. These operations, apart from their primary target of eliminating meanders, also focused on the removal of vegetation from the river banks, more precisely brush and smaller wooded areas that could potentially hinder work and transportation.

State of the Art

This topic on the changes to the landscape that occurred following attempts to regulate the Mureş River has not yet been tackled either by Romanian historiography or Hungarian historiography. Works dealing with transportation on the Mureş River tend to focus on the history of salt mining. Given the interdisciplinary character of this topic, which brings together knowledge and perspectives from the fields of history and geography, one should take a brief look at the scholarly works that have touched upon it.

The subject was briefly approached in a recently published monograph on forests in eighteenth-century Transylvania, more precisely in the chapter dealing with knowledge transfer from Austria to Transylvania and the search for solutions to the timber crisis that affected inland navigation in this province.4 Given that a detailed approach to the issue of forestry would go beyond the limits this paper, only one of its aspects will be analyzed in this article.

in the eighteenth century, Transylvania and Europe witnessed an acute timber crisis, principally caused by overharvesting. At the time, wood was the main energy source in industry. The increase in the price of timber strongly impacted each economic sector. As for the military, the oak timber crisis affected the construction of fortifications, transport vessels, and bridges. As a result, Transylvanian town halls regulated the access of individuals as well as goats and cattle to forests and the harvesting of certain tree species, restricted construction, replaced timber with brick, stone, and roof tiles as primary building materials, and introduced fast-growing tree species.

Konrad Müller5 was the first to approach the subject from the perspective of the history of transportation in his work on the Habsburg economic policy before and during the reign of empress Maria Theresa. Müller discusses, among others, the efforts of the Salt Office, Treasury and Gubernium to modernize transportation by land and by water alike. His work, largely based on documents from the State Archives in Vienna, provides an overview of the aforementioned modernization efforts. Mercantilist policies in Transylvania were principally focused on the exploitation of natural resources. Maria Theresa’s reforms offered the province the much-needed opportunity to develop its economy. However, their implementation was hindered both by underpopulation and resistance from the aristocracy and landed nobility.

In the category of works on the history of transportation one should also mention the authors who approach the history of salt mining and timber rafting. Thus, authors such as Beniamin Bossa,6 Ioan Dordea,7 Volker Wollmann,8 Harald Heppner,9 Viorica Suciu and Gheorghe Anghel,10 Dorin-Ioan Rus,11 and Dorel Marc12 discuss ethnographic and historical aspects of transport by water without approaching the issue of the regulation of the Mureş River.

One should also mention the most recent approaches concerning the regulation of the Tisa (Tisza) River and the Danube. For the first case, Linda Szücs’s study13 focusing on the impact that the regulation of the Tisa River had on the agriculture in the surrounding areas is notable. Edit Király’s work,14 despite mainly focusing on the regulation of the Danube and its perception in the nineteenth century, provides many pieces of relevant information on the eighteenth century as well.

Transylvania’s Rivers and Their Role in Salt Transportation

Transylvania’s navigable waterways (Mieresch/Maros/Mureş, Samosch/Samos/Someş, Alt/Olt, partially Arieş/Aranyos and Körös/Criş) had been used for salt transportation since the Roman period. The earliest plans to render navigation easier, which were included into larger projects for the reorganization of salt mines, can be dated back to the time when the province was an autonomous Principality (1541–1688).15

River projects in Transylvania trace their origin to the issue of efficient salt transport. In 1699, shortly after Transylvania came under Habsburg rule, the Aulic Chamber reorganized the salt monopoly as well as the main warehouse located at Partoş (Alba Iulia) where a dockyard for the building of ships, ferries, rafts, and other types of vessels needed for the transportation of salt and other goods on the Mureş River operated in the eighteenth century. The main task of the Salt Office, whose headquarters were located in Alba Iulia, was to organize the transportation of salt and other goods on the Mureş River, which required the hiring of an ever-growing number of rafters and crews for ships.16 Ordinarily, the Office carried out the transport of salt, but it also often carried out the transport of various other goods, such as grain, foods, wine, iron, lead, copper, lumber, boards, and building stones, to the western areas of Transylvania, the Banat, and Hungary. In 1788, following the outbreak of the Austro-Russo-Turkish War (1787–91), the Office became involved in the transport of war matériel too. On 28 January 1788, the Transylvania Gubernium requested the Salt Office to put at the Army’s disposal 25–30 pontoons needed by troops to build bridges for crossing rivers and streams.17

In 1786, the Austrian hydrologist François Joseph Maire describes in his work the empire’s great waterways and the economic advantages that their navigability could bring. Regarding raw materials and goods that could be more cheaply transported by water from Transylvania, Maire mentions salt, antimony, grain, tobacco, hemp, wine, horses, sheep, leather, wax, and honey. Salt played a crucial role within trade. Hungary, Slavonia, and Croatia were supplied with Transylvanian salt, the quantity delivered annually reaching 600,000 quintals. As for goods that could be transported to Transylvania by water, he mentions manufactured products, sugar, coffee, and luxury items.18

In 1772, the Office at Partoş owned 262 vessels, but the transport to Szeged (Seghedin) of the necessary 600,000 quintals of salt (30,000 tons) required at least 400 vessels. In 1778, 92 vessels were brought back from Arad to Partoş for reuse, while in 1780 the number of vessels included in the Office’s inventory reached 300.19

Measures for the Navigability of Transylvanian Rivers
in the Eighteenth Century

After Habsburg authorities took control of Transylvania, they started to draft plans to render the rivers navigable again, given that they had been used for salt transport in Roman times (106–275 AD). In 1700, Count Johann Friedrich von Seeau submitted such a plan for the Someş and Olt rivers,20 but it failed for same reason as later plans, because of a lack of qualified personnel and technology. For example, a 1771 project aimed to bring ship crews from the German states and regulate the Mureş and Arieş rivers with the help of modern machinery brought from the German states. Although the plan was approved, it was ultimately abandoned21 likely because of the devastation caused by floods that year,22 which prompted the Financial Directorate to reallocate the funds to flood relief efforts.

Throughout Maria Theresa’s reign, new river regulation projects were submitted in order to improve navigation on the Monarchy’s main rivers.23 One of them was Maire’s ambitious project to create a waterway connecting Sibiu and Trieste. The first step was to link up the Olt and Mureş rivers at Sibiu, thus creating easier access to the Danube. Then, this waterway was to be unified with another one that linked Szeged to Pest, thus allowing Austria access to West European markets by water. In Maire’s vision, a logical consequence was to link up the Mureş and Someş rivers as well, which would hasten Transylvania’s economic progress.24 Colonel Jean-Baptiste Brequin de Demenge’s 1766 plan,25 which aimed at linking the provinces of Croatia, Transylvania, Hungary, and the Banat to the Drava River in order to facilitate trade by water, was ultimately abandoned.26

According to a mercantilist-inspired transport system in Europe, navigation on internal waterways was seen as the best quality means of transportation. Certainly, transport by land was not neglected either. The developmental potential of navigation on internal waterways was especially significant in this time period. Wherever opportunities for economic development arose, the use of waterways was always taken into account. However, this development was somewhat slowed down due to the limited territory of many states, and their separation by trade barriers and customs.27

Under the influence of mercantilist theories, absolutist rulers improved transport conditions by promoting navigation on internal waterways in order to increase the economic power of their states, and started the systematic reorganization by connecting the various fluvial transport systems. Thus, in Western Europe numerous plans to regulate rivers and to build canals between the main navigable rivers were drawn up. In 1770, the Austrian government issued a navigation ordinance for the Danube (Donau-Schifffahrtsordnung) and initiated the systematic regulation of navigable rivers.28 Although certain mercantilist states also expanded their road infrastructure, in most states transport was moved on internal waterways. For instance, during the Russo-Austro-Turkish conflict, war matériel was mostly transported by water. The era of mercantilism witnessed a wave of canal building in Central Europe too. Absolute monarchs perceived transport policies, which included the planning and construction of canal networks, as a means to further unify their state. Canals were also supposed to stimulate trade and bring together economic zones. Canal building also contributed to the transformation of the landscape with the aim of achieving economic unity.29

In 1773 Count Auersperg, who was at the time Governor of Transylvania, claimed that the regulation of the three rivers would be very costly, which is why the Diet ultimately rejected the project.30 Navigation on the Mureş River was hindered by numerous obstacles that caused material and human losses. For example, in 1771 several vessels sank, and total material losses were estimated at 1,165 florins. In 1774, a tower located in the village of Folt collapsed into the river and prevented navigation. Vessel owners and inhabitants of surrounding villages were ordered to clear the riverbed of stones and fallen trees, and remove sunken vessels and rafts.31

The value of canals was recognized from the early eighteenth century when numerous plans were drawn up. Their implementation, however, generally failed due to financial constraints. In Transylvania, several military and civil engineers, such as Fischer, Croner, Mraz, and other scientists participated in the mapping of the province initiated during the reign of Joseph II. Their river measuring and mapping endeavors laid the foundations for the 1779 Mureş River regulation project.

Canal building targeted the removal of all obstacles and the creation of a safe environment for the transport of timber and salt with the new types of vessels on the Mureş River. The documents sent by Viennese Court to the Treasury and the War Council in June 1781 reveal a plan for the comprehensive regulation of the Mureş River.32 According to a 1775 report and its annexed map, which has since been lost, there were 96 meanders along this river, 87 of them quite large, which had to be partially straightened. In addition, all the points of entry and exit from the old riverbed had to be sealed off. Given that the total length of the meanders measured 3,532 lines,33 the Financial Directorate in Vienna proposed shortening it to 1,620 lines (calculated in Viennese feet34), which would cut the distance by 1,912 lines. Thus, many dangerous obstacles would be eliminated and the duration of the trip would be reduced by half. By increasing transport speed, they would be able to reduce the size of the vessels and consequently keep the amount of “material losses to a minimum, which would increase the yearly revenues of the Imperial Treasury” (“auch das Schwenden selbst des Materials auf geringerer Prozent heruntersetzt, damit dem königlichen Ärarium jährlich großen Nutzen zuwenden würde”).35

In 1786, the engineers Fischer, Mraz, and Croner were entrusted with planning the regulation of the Mureş, Someş, and Olt rivers, respectively. The greatest technical challenge that the engineers faced during the regulation of these rivers was the elimination of the numerous rocks and meanders that required many machines and specialists.36 They had to report on the obstacles that hindered navigation on the aforementioned rivers, on how they could be eliminated, and on the number of specialists that would be required to carry out the task.37

The 1779 Regulation Plan

The 1779 plan drawn up by the Salt Office envisaged the regulation of the Mureş River and the introduction of new types of softwood vessels. It was arguably one of the most ambitious landscape transformation projects in eighteenth-century Transylvania. It required the dredging and cleaning of the Mureş River, and its regulation through the elimination of its meanders, with the aim of making navigation easier. Carrying out this project would require the transfer of experts and technology and the professional training of local specialists, which counted as something new for Transylvania. The greatest hurdle, however, was technical. The main reason for commencing this project was the rising price of oak timber needed in shipbuilding due to the aforementioned over-harvesting crisis starting in the mid-eighteenth century.38 The previous source for hardwood timber had been the Hungarian state forests in the area of Arad, more precisely in Vărădia de Mureş (Waradia or Totvărădia / Tótvárad), (Fig. 1) from where it was brought to Partoş.39 The price of softwood for vessels was considerably less, and varied according to dimensions and furnishing. A softwood vessel without a roof cost 83 florins and 13½ kreutzer, while the price of one with a roof could reach 101 florins and 16¾ kreutzer. The cost price of an oak ship reached 125–140 florins.40

In December 1778, the navigation engineer Fischer, head of the Mureş River project, sent the Treasury a proposal for the building of softwood vessels. According to Fisher, the length, width, and depth of these ships would make them more efficient. They could also sail on rivers with lower water levels. The test ship measured 10 klafter in length,41 15–16 Austrian ft. in width, 2 ½ Austrian ft. in height. Soon after it was built, the Treasury approved a pilot trip on the Mureş River between Maros-Portu and Szeged.42 The minutes of the discussions following the test reveal that the engineers Fischer and Hubert were satisfied with the outcome. They argued that the vessel’s slight bent forward was no reason for concern, but still recommended that the vessels be covered with canvas instead of wood.43

Figure 1. Salt mines and waterways in Transylvania (made by Bianca Tămăşan)


Because the new vessels built from softwood were less resistant to accidents than those built from hardwood oak, the Treasury ordered at its meeting held in Lugoj on 13 February 1778 a new cleaning operation of the Mureş River, the demolition of floating mills, and the removal of logs, broken bridge pillars, and other elements that could potentially jeopardize navigation. At the same meeting, the Treasury also decided on what type of machinery was necessary and set the summer of 1778 as starting date of the operation so that the new ships would be serviceable by the spring of 1780.44 The engineers Samuel Nazdroviczky and Fischer, upon testing each machine, comparing prices, and evaluating maintenance costs, gave a professional opinion in favor of the windlass (Erdwinde in German) for the Transylvanian sectors of the river. According to the two engineers, this machine was used the following way: (1) if placed on a ship, it could easily be attached to any part of a log; (2) in order to better attach the logs to the machine, Wallachian workers would be hired due to their ability to stay longer underwater; (3) once the log was taken to the riverbank and attached to it, it could be conveniently redirected and easier unattached; (4) the machine’s force could be increased with the help of a tackle; (5) if the riverbank was uneven, the logs could be removed with various lifting machines, which, required more work; and (6) experience showed that with the help of the windlass even larger tree trunks with branches could be removed. Both Commissions representing the regions of the Banat and Hungary, respectively, agreed with the two engineers’ technical proposal. The wooden debris removal operation started on 11 August and ended on 1 October 1778 with the removal of 117 logs and tree branches of various sizes.45

On 27 February 1779,46 the Financial Committee in Vienna (Wiener Finanzkommission) approved the plan drawn up in Sibiu (Nagyszeben/Hermannstadt) and tasked the engineer Hubert with building the new ships projected to be 100 feet long, 15–16 feet wide, and with a total depth of 2½ feet (= 28.35/4.5–5/0.75 m.). As for the width of the Mureş River, it reached 150 paces at Alba Iulia (Gyulafehérvár), 200 paces at Deva (Déva), Şoimuş (Marossolymos), and Ilia (Marosillye), while in the flatland, as it slowed down, it reached up to 300 paces. As for its average depth in the navigable sector that started at Alba Iulia, it reached at least 1 fathom or even more.47

On 27 March 1779, the Viennese Financial Directorate set the production cost for each new ship at 83 florins and 13½ kreutzer. The timber would be brought from the Giurgeu Mountains in the Eastern Carpathians.48 The engineer Karl Loidl was tasked with building a sawmill in the mountains to mill planks and beams for shipbuilding.49 As for the building technique, the Viennese Aulic Chamber proposed the use of the same methods as navigators in Upper Austria because the Traun River had a similar course and flow speed to the Mureşin Transylvania. In addition, they recommended the adoption of Austrian shipbuilding methods and ordered the relocation of several masters from Upper Austria to Alba Iulia in order to create a shipyard.50 Finally, the Commission sanctioned the building of a road that ran parallel to the Mureş River in order to facilitate the traction of ships with the help of oxen and horses. The road was to be built with the help of peasants from villages along the river.51 With the new ships, the Transylvanian Treasury was aiming for higher revenues, given that they were more spacious, required only a small crew, and their maintenance costs were low in comparison to the older hardwood ships.

The navigation engineer Fischer was tasked with organizing the transport of logs in the river, beginning in December 1778, for the building of the new vessels. Upon conducting field research, Fischer reported first in February and then in May to the Financial Directorate that it was necessary to build a canal at the confluence between the Topliţa stream and the Mureş River. In his opinion, it would be an easy task because it merely required the removal of a few rocks that hindered transport. In addition, he also considered that in order to facilitate transport up to the sawmill at Ditrău (Ditró/Dittersdorf) (Fig. 1), it would be necessary to build a road that would cost an estimated 100 florins.52 On 23 May 1781, the Transylvanian Treasury submitted to Vienna a protocol on the cost of building the waterway on the Topliţa stream, which amounted to 633 florins. According to the same document, the logs moved on this waterway would be used to mill planks.53

This politically directed transformation of salt transport by changing the type of ships required not only the regulation of rivers, but also the dredging of riverbeds. Thus, in December 1779,54 the General Staff in Sibiu considered the possibility that the 2nd Wallachian Border Guard Regiment could take over this task on the Someş and Tisa rivers where the new ships would operate. The experience of the cleaning operation on the Mureş River from the summer and autumn of 1778,55 when an insufficient workforce was recruited from among local peasants, provided the Financial Directorate with the opportunity to make the above decision. In February 1780, they informed Colonel Enzenberg, commander of this regiment in Năsăud, that border guards could now use larger ships for salt transport on the Someş River.56

On 5 August 1780, the Financial Commission in Vienna sent their approval to the Gubernium in Sibiu of the sum of 8,760 florins for the shipyard at Maros-Portu, of which 4,261 florins were allocated for the building of 31 ships (each cost 137 florins and 47½ kreutzer). The remaining sum was allotted to auxiliary buildings.57 In addition, on 2 December 1780, the Commission allotted an extra 1,873 florins and 20 kreutzer for the construction of 10 wintering places for ships.58 According to Fischer’s plan, these places were to be built beyond the river, in an area protected from floods (Fig. 2).59

The plan followed the design of wintering places for salt transport vessels at Salzkammergut (on the Traun River, especially at Wels) conceived by the imperial and royal cameral engineer Hubert in 1776.60 Hubert had already provided technical instructions regarding these places as well as other similar designs for the region of Banat.61

The aim of this measure was to reduce travel time to Szeged by a third, which meant that each round-trip salt transport, which had required five weeks until then, would now require about three weeks without pause. This also meant that several shipments of salt could be moved by the newly-built ships over a short period of time. As a result, lower quantities of timber would be used, which would bring more revenues to the Imperial Treasury; however, the quantity of timber to be used depended on the ship’s size and furnishing. In order to build the a along the river, arable lands had to be reduced, brush and forest surplus on riverbanks had to be cut. In addition, the construction work required timber, stone, as well as skilled and manual laborers, carts, and various tools. In order to carry out the first set of requirements, the engineer Fischer made the following proposal:62 (1) landowners had to build levees and embankments wherever banks were sunken or uneven in order to protect villages and lands from floods; (2) cavities located next to riverbanks had to be filled up or crossed by a bridge; (3) brush and trees along riverbanks had to be cut; (4) garden fences along riverbanks had to be torn down so that ships could be hauled upstream; (5) mill owners had to erect tall and strong protection bars around mills, which were obstacles to navigation of rivers. In 1771, the Mureş River alone numbered 186 mills that had to be bypassed. The projected demolition of these mills caused an uproar among owners.63

Unfortunately, Fischer’s plan to render the Mureş River navigable with softwood vessels, which can be considered very ambitious for the prevailing technical conditions in Transylvania, was ultimately abandoned for lack of qualified personnel.

According to the 1779 plan to regulate the Mureş River, wherever the river had two branches, one of them had to be closed off. For this they adopted a holistic approach, meaning that every angle and aspect was taken into account, from the width, length, and depth of the waterway to safety measures for ships as well as the adjoining roads, agricultural lands, and human settlements.

While choosing the trajectory and outlining the scope of the regulation work, Fischer started from certain principles that reflected the necessity to maintain a stable riverbed: (1) respect for the natural evolution tendency of the riverbed and creation of favorable water-flow conditions; (2) preservation of floodwater flow direction and water transport capacity by avoiding flow blockages; and (3) regulation works carried out in stages by following the evolution in time and space of morphological phenomena and by avoiding unwanted effects.

As we indicated above, the works to protect the banks of the Mureş River had to be conducted according to the particularities of its flow, the necessity of these works being closely connected to the regulation solutions. Because riverbank protection works were costly as they absorbed a significant amount of building materials, the Viennese Financial Directorate wanted them reduced to the required minimum. In any case, cutting through the meander neck required at least two consolidation points (upstream and downstream). However, there was the risk that calibration works could destroy natural consolidations (Fig. 3). It was also stipulated that levees should be built in certain sections near the riverbanks for their protection.

This planned transformation of the landscape could also appear as an attempt by the Financial Directorate to improve transportation by water and riverside living conditions alike.64 In this time period, the custom of regulating internal waterways within ample projects in order to facilitate transport, to ensure protection against floods, and to prevent the outbreak of epidemic diseases was always linked to centralizing interests of state power.65 This implies the existence of a political-economic will, as well as a group of advisers and specialists that perceived the transformation of the landscape as an impetus for agriculture and for economic progress in general.

The new transformation of the landscape was based on the use of techniques and work methods theretofore unknown in Transylvania. They represented the best premise for carrying out projects on river regulations, canal building, and draining operations. The great technical projects were not carried out simply by bringing or importing know-how, but also by connecting them with institutions, scientific ideas, and technical procedures.66 A novel element of this project was that it placed the landscape within the general context of its use, thus serving economic interests, such as the promotion of transport. Secondly, it relied on extensive mapping and surveys, which helped engineers eliminate risk factors. The technical plan was accompanied by mission statements, financial proposals, as well as revenue and expenditure estimates.

Impact on Human Settlements

By building new transport routes in the era of mercantilism, the transport reorganization plan created the premise for the economic development of regions rich in raw materials or located in the proximity of waterways, also giving an impetus for the structural transformation of human settlements and landscapes alike. The fact that transportation by water played a substantial role is also demonstrated by the presence of human settlements along the rivers. Among them, those situated at each end of a route or at the intersection of major waterways and roads acquired greater significance. Because waterways were used only for a short period in a year, travelers and traders had to stop over in these settlements for a longer time and then continue their journey by land. This had a positive impact on the local economic and cultural life.

This is also how the settlement of Partoş developed. The local Naval Office contracted annually administrative personnel and ship crews, who lived in the neighborhood close to the port. Moreover, this area of town hosted many shipbuilders. There three plans for the fortress and town of Alba Iulia from this time period that describe the main salt warehouse and the shipyard, both located on the right bank of the Mureş River between the bridge over the river and the mouth of the Mureş Canal, known as the “sanitary canal” in the nineteenth century. The plans were drawn up by the Fortress’s Corps of Engineers.

Figure 4. Maros-Portu in the year 1740
(Suciu and Anghel, “Mărturii,” 367–87.)


The first plan was drawn up in 1740 and entitled “Situation Plan for the Alba Iulia Fortress in Transylvania” (“Situations Plan der Festung Carlsburg in Siebenbürgen”). On the south side, one can distinguish the course of the Mureş River, the bridge with the customs office, and the road that links Alba Iulia to Sibiu via Sebeş. On the same bank is also located the mouth of the Mureş Canal and the salt warehouse (Salzniederlag). The latter, comprising a total of nine buildings, stretched along the right bank of the Mureş River for around 300 meters. The buildings of the salt warehouse were placed on the western side of a rectangle (Fig. 4).

Figure 5 Maros-Portu in the year 1771
Muzeul Naţional al Unirii Alba Iulia, fond “Colecţia de documente,” no. 7409.)


The second plan was drawn up in 1771 and illustrates only the town’s main elements: streets, canals, churches, as well as the salt warehouse at Partoş. They also marked the locality Maros-Portu on the right bank of the Mureş River. Apart from the 20 houses, one can also notice that the location of the buildings of the salt warehouse is identical to that from the previous plan (Fig. 5).67

The Mureş River project was also the source of demographic growth in Topliţa. In 1750 it counted 50 households,68 and by 1785 their number reached 227, with a population of 1,470 inhabitants.69 Work at the Austrian sawmill and in timber rafting increased the town’s population as more individuals found employment there (Figs. 6 and 7).70

The River Regulation Attempt at Limba

The 1786 operation to eliminate meanders on the Mureş River started with the so-called “Limba” (The Tongue) meander, close to Alba Iulia. This operation included technical measures that Transylvanian Treasury were ultimately unable to implement properly due to lack of experience and inadequate equipment. The flawed intervention combined with eroding riverbanks resulted in the flooding of Ciugud. As a result, its population had to be evacuated and moved elsewhere.

The navigation engineer Fischer submitted to the Magistrat in Alba Iulia a formal request for the relocation of the inhabitants of Ciugud and for 300 laborers needed for the hydro-technical works.71 On June 14, 1786, during the preparation stage for this operation, Fischer was asked the following questions: “where and how was the sector of the Mureş River, that was assigned to him, navigable, if meanders prevented safe navigation, […] and whether circumstances required the employment of personnel.”72

Fischer explained that the Mureş River was navigable from Mirislău, a locality upstream from Aiud (Enyed/Strassburg am Mieresch), where navigation was surely possible in springtime, even with a 5–600 quintal cargo on a type of vessel built straight and wide in order to be useful on lower-depth waterways. On deeper waterways, such as the Danube, larger and heavier cargo ships could navigate, which was important to the economy of the province as local produce could be moved easier, safer, and in larger quantities. On the lower course of the Mureş River up to Arad or to the Tisa River, navigation was possible until June.

In relation to the numerous meanders, small islands, and other obstacles hindering easier and safer navigation, Fisher maintained that the greatest issue was the dispersal of the current. This dispersal meant that the river, at higher current velocity, rather eroded the riverbank, which consisted mostly of soft earth, than deepened the rocky riverbed. He then proposed several measures to improve the course of the Mureş River, such as the improvement of the riverbed, the building of roads with effective drainage along the riverbanks, the protection of side valleys from floods, the regulation of mills and weirs, the construction of bridges over dangerous places, and the installation of water conveyance systems or similar objects that could be useful for the local population.

For the elimination of the meander he proposed: (1) building adequate machinery for the river; (2) the prior cleaning of the riverbanks and of the river sector; (3) cutting through the neck of the meander; (4) securing the lower part of the riverbanks; (5) sealing off the free branch; and (6) eliminating the possibility of floods.

They intended to cut through the neck of the meander at the point opposite Ciugud, namely, at the village of Drâmbar (Drombár), which meant building a canal between the two points. Then, Fischer argued, the population of Ciugud had to be relocated (Fig. 8).73

In a report dated 5 April 1786, Fischer asked the Transylvanian Treasury when it could finance the improvement of navigation and hydraulic issues. He explained that, similarly to Hungary, each county should employ an engineer specialized in hydraulic issues so that several works could be executed at the same time. In addition to this, he suggested that it would be very useful if they also conducted research and drew up future improvement plans with the help of a hydro-technician who was able to implement them and who was familiar the country’s particularities as well as its problems.74 Following this request, Transylvania’s Gubernium approved on 2 July 1787 the payment of 1,397 florins and 20½ kreutzer to the Transportation Office at Partos for the execution of hydro-technical works at Ciugud.75

The resolution of these issues required the employment of experienced personnel, especially laborers who had previously worked on similar building projects, such as the improvement of road infrastructure, the renovation of public buildings, etc. These projects were ultimately abandoned, either for technical or financial reasons. The year 1786 was especially difficult for Transylvania due to a devastating earthquake,76 numerous floods, and an epizootic outbreak,77 which compelled the Gubernium in Sibiu to redirect financing towards the affected areas and to postpone the planned regulation of the Mureş River.

Three-quarters of a century later, on 6 May 1850, another project for the regulation of the Mureş River was submitted by the deputy Military Commissar of the Alba District, Dimitrie Moldovan, to the General Staff in Sibiu. The plan targeted rendering this river navigable for steamboats, but it was ultimately rejected.78 The idea of regulating the Mureş River would be reexamined almost a century later, during the communist period.

The following question arises: How did the regulatory works influence the lowland downstream settlements? As we have seen, the policies to improve transportation on the Mureş River, which included its regulation, led to the further development of the town of Alba Iulia, the prime example of this study. Similar developments can be noticed in other towns, such as Deva and Arad, while the operation near the village of Ciugud, which ended in failure, caused the relocation of its entire population. It is certain, however, that river regulation operations reduced the risk of flooding generally. Another example is the successful operation on the Târnava Mare River at Dumbrăveni (Ebesfalva in Hungarian/Elisabethstadt in German), which took place in 1771.79


The plans to regulate navigable rivers can be considered a novel element within the evolution of navigation on internal waterways in the early stages of Transylvania’s industrialization in late eighteenth century. Industrial growth was a decisive factor in waterway regulation and the reorganization of timber and salt transport. This induced numerous changes in the natural environment and prompted the development of human settlements.

The Mureş River plan consisted of: (1) rethinking the timber and salt transport system on the internal waterways, which was determined by the acute shortage of oak timber needed in shipbuilding; (2) building softwood vessels according to the design of those used in Upper Austria; (3) regulating the channel of the Mureş River by straightening and reinforcing its banks as well as by eliminating menders; and (4) building canals for moving timber to the specially constructed sawmills.

The following changes were made to the landscape: (1) reinforcement of riverbanks; (2) building of a road which ran parallel with the Mureş River for the traction of vessels upstream; (3) building of the sawmill at Ditrău; (4) construction of the canal at Topliţa; (5) rearrangement of the shipyard at Partoş; and (6) growth of towns and villages in the proximity of logging sites (for example Topliţa) and of the sailors’ neighborhood in Alba Iulia.

These projects aimed at reshaping the landscape and subordinating it to the economic imperatives of the Viennese Court. The centrally planned regulation of the Mureş River in Transylvania was meant to make the downstream transportation of goods (primarily salt) easier and more cost-efficient. In addition, this project was beneficial not only for the local labor market, given that the dredging, cleaning, and building works required a considerable number of skilled workers and manual laborers, but also for local industry and commerce as more goods could be moved.

Moreover, these operations had an environmental impact as they reduced ground water levels and the average discharge of the Mureş River. One should also add, however, that constant and long-lasting tree harvesting in the area and climate change, as well as increasing demand for water in the fast-growing towns and in agriculture, may have very well contributed to this.

The poor state of roads meant that the expansion of internal waterways (regulation of rivers and construction of canals) became a necessity. In comparison to roads, which became unusable in bad weather, waterways were much more reliable and cost-efficient. The latter were better suited for moving heavier cargo, especially salt. Around ports located alongside waterways, several towns grew and thrived as a result of commercial and shipping activities.

Novel for Transylvania was the dissemination of technical innovations as well as the rethinking of the shipbuilding system that was achieved by bringing specialists from Austria. There were, however, several obstacles that had to be overcome, such as cost, safety issues, and lower water depths. Revolutionary for the province was also the progress of institutional structures and infrastructure. Further improvements to infrastructure involved the facilitation of water transport through the building of a new type of vessel, adopting a new navigation system, and expanding the Maros-Portu port.

The geographic distribution of salt and timber resources required the design and promotion of new cargo vessels. Topographic difficulties and landscape particularities propelled the improvement of these means of transportation and of the infrastructure. The development of the “salt industry” led, on the other hand, to the creation of new economic centers in areas where timber was used in construction.

Towards the mid-eighteenth century, transport over waterways had become a major revenue source for the state. During this century, states were willing to invest heavily in the expansion of internal waterways and to encourage the creation of transregional waterway networks in order to move larger quantities of goods and to increase their revenues. As for Transylvania, the measures that central authorities took were revolutionary for the time since they transformed the landscape by expanding and improving transport routes and by rethinking transport over water and ways to conserve timber. According to a 1791 report, approximately 500,000 quintals of salt produced from the mines at Turda, Cojocna, and Ocna Sibiului were transported on the Mureş River annually.80


Archival sources

Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Országos Levéltára [Hungarian National Archives, State Archive], Erdélyi Országos Kormányhatósági Levéltárak, Gubernium Transylvanicum levéltára, Gubernium Transylvanicum in politicis, Ügyiratok F 46 [MNL OL]

Österreichisches Staatsarchiv, Neue Hofkammer, Siebenbürgische Kammerale, Salzwesen, 198, Jahr 1779. [ÖStA, NH, SK]

Österreichisches Staatsarchiv, Neue Hofkammer, Siebenbürgische Kammerale, Salzwesen, 199, Jahr 1780.

Österreichisches Staatsarchiv, Neue Hofkammer, Siebenbürgische Kammerale, Salzwesen, 200, Jahr 1781.

Arhivele Naţionale ale României [National Archive of Romania], Cluj, Tezaurariatul Minier [ANR]


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Armbruster, Adolf. Dacoromana-Saxonica. Bucharest: Ştiinţifică şi enciclopedică, 1980.

Bossa, Beniamin. “Transportul sării pe Mureş în sec. XVIII” [Salt transportation on the Mureş River in the eighteenth century]. Sargeţia 7 (1970): 141–49.

Dordea, Ioan. “Un proiect din anul 1790 privind reorganizarea economiei sării din Transilvania (I)” [A project from 1790 on the reorganization of the salt economy in Transylvania]. Anuarul Institutului de Istorie şi Arheologie Cluj 23 (1980): 441–57.

Dordea, Ioan. “Aspecte ale transportului sării pe Mureş în veacul al XVIII-lea” [Aspects of salt transport on the Mureş River], Sargetia 15, Deva (1981): 165–93.

Heppner, Harald. “Die Wasserstraßen und ihre Bedeutung.” In Der Weg führt über Österreich: Zur Geschichte des Verkehrs- und Nachrichtenwesens von und nach Südosteuropa (18. Jahrhundert bis zur Gegenwart), edited by Harald Heppner, 91–106. Vienna: Böhlau, 1996.

Hietzinger, Carl Bernhard Edlen von. Statistik der Militärgränze des österreichischen Kaisertums, vol. 2. Vienna: Carl Gerold, 1820.

Hoff, Karl Ernst Adolf von. Chronik der Erdbeben und Vulkan-Ausbrüche, vol. 2, 1760 bis 1805 und 1821 bis 1832. Gotha: Justus Perthes, 1841.

Király, Edit. “Die Donau ist die Form:” Strom-Diskurse in Texten und Bildern des 19. Jahrhunderts. Vienna: Böhlau, 2017.

Maire, Francois Joseph. Bemerkungen über den innern Kreislauf der Handlung in den oesterreichischen Erbstaaten. T. 1–2. Zur nöthigen Erläuterung der hydrographischen General- und Partikulärkarten von diesen Ländern oder Hauptentwurf der zu eröffnenden schiffbaren Wasserstraßen von allen Meeren Europens bis nach Wien. Straßburg, Leipzig, 1786.

Marc, Dorel. “Sisteme de transport şi de comercializare tradiţională a sării” [Traditional Salt Transportation and Marketing Systems]. In Sarea, timpul şi omul, edited by Valerii Cavruc, and Andreea Chiricescu, 152–57. Sf. Gheorghe: Muzeul Carpaţilor Răsăriteni, 2006.

Marc, Dorel. Evoluţia habitatului tradiţional în zona Topliţei Mureşului Superior (sec. XVII-XX) [Evolution of the Traditional Habitat in the Area of Topliţa on the Upper Mureş]. Tg. Mureş: Ardealul, 2009.

Marc, Dorel. “Izvoare etnografice surprinse în Conscripţia urbarială din 1785 : Ocupaţiile şi veniturile (Beneficia) satelor de pe Mureşul Superior şi Valea Gurghiului, comitatul Turda” [Ethnographic Sources Found in the 1785 Urbarial Census: Professions and Income of Villages on the Upper Mureş and in the Gurghiu Valley]. Angustia, 14, Sfântu Gheorghe (2010): 471–82.

Müller, Konrad. Siebenbürgische Wirtschaftspolitik unter Maria Theresia. Munich: R. Oldenbourg, 1961.

Prodan, David. Din istoria Transilvaniei: Studii şi evocări [From the History of Transylvania: Studies and Accounts]. Bucharest: Enciclopedică, 1991.

Rus, Dorin-Ioan. “Din istoricul societăţii de plutărit din Reghinul-Săsesc (1852–1908)” [Aspects from the History of Timber Rafting in Reghinul-Săsesc (1852–1908)]. Revista Bistriţei, 14, Bistriţa (2000): 91–95.

Rus, Dorin-Ioan Wald- und Ressourcenpolitik im Siebenbürgen des 18. Jahrhunderts. Frankfurt am Main: Peter-Lang Verlag, 2017.

Rus, Dorin-Ioan. “Böhmische und slowakische Berichte über die Waldnutzung im siebenbürgischen Bergbau (16–18. Jahrhundert).” Die Montangeschichte: Jahrbuch für die Geschichte des Berg- und Hüttenwesens, 2015–2016. (2017): 90–103.

Rus, Dorin-Ioan. “Die Überschwemmungen des Jahres 1771 in Siebenbürgen: Die Rolle des Zentrums und der Peripherie bei der Bewältigung der Krise.” Transylvanian Review 26, no. 4 (2017): 43–62.

Scholl, Lars Ulrich. Ingenieure in der Frühindustrialisierung: staatliche und private Techniker im Königreich Hannover und an der Ruhr (1815–1873). Göttingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 1978.

Schönburg-Hartenstein, Johanna and Renate, Zedinger. Jean-Baptiste Brequin (1712–1785): Ein Wissenschaftler aus Lothringen im Dienst des Wiener Hofes. Forschungen und Beiträge zur Wiener Stadtgeschichte, 42. Vienna, 2004, 69–71.

Suciu, Viorica and Anghel, Gheorghe. “Mărturii ale practicării plutăritului în Transilvania din antichitate, evul mediu şi perioada modernă: Rolul oraşului Alba Iulia în istoria plutăritului” [Evidence Regarding the Practice of Timber Rafting in Transylvania in the Antiquity, Middle Ages and the Modern Era: The Role of the City of Alba Iulia in the History of Timber Rafting]. Apulum 41, Alba Iulia (2004): 367–87.

Strider, Johann. “Ein Bericht des Fuggerschen Faktors Hans Dernschwam über den Siebenbürgischen Salzbergbau um 1528.” Ungarische Jahrbücher, 13 (1923): 260–61.

Szücs, Linda. “Auenbewirtschaftungsformen an der Theiß.” In Schauplätze und Themen der Umweltgeschichte umweltgeschichtliche: Miszellen aus dem Graduiertenkolleg, Werkstatt-bericht, edited by Bernd Hermann, and Ulrike Kruse, 237–50. Göttingen, 2010.

Trapp, Wolfgang: Kleines Handbuch der Maße, Zahlen, Gewichte und der Zeitrechnung. Stuttgart: Reclam, 1998.

Voigt, Fritz. Verkehr, vol. 2, pt. 1. Die Entwicklung des Verkehrsystems. Berlin: Fritz Voigt, 1965.

Wollmann, Volker, and Dordea, Ioan. “Transportul şi comercializarea sării din Transilvania şi Maramureş în veacul al XVIII-lea” [The Transportation and Marketing of Salt in Eighteenth-Century Transylvania and Maramureş]. Anuarul Institutului de Istorie şi Arheologie Cluj, 21 (1978): 135–71.

Wollmann, Volker. “Der siebenbürgische Bergbau im 18. Jahrhundert.” In Silber und Salz in Siebenbürgen. Bd. 1, edited by Rainer Slotta, Volker Wollmann, and Ioan Dordea, 41–59. Bochum: Deutsches Bergbaumuseum, 1999.

1 Szücs, “Auenbewirtschaftungsformen an der Theiß,” 243; Scholl, Ingenieure in der Frühindustrialisierung, 118.

2 Österreichisches Staatsarchiv, Neue Hofkammer, Siebenbürgische Kammerale, Salzwesen, 198, Year 1779: 531.

3 Ibid., 172.

4 Rus, Wald- und Ressourcenpolitik, 218–23.

5 Müller, Siebenbürgische Wirtschaftspolitik.

6 Bossa, “Transportul sării pe Mureş,” 141–49.

7 Dordea, “Un proiect din anul 1790 privind reorganizarea economiei sării,” 441–57; Dordea, “Aspecte ale transportului sării pe Mureş,” 165–93.

8 Wollmann and Dordea, “Transportul şi comercializarea sării,” 135–71.

9 Heppner, “Die Wasserstraßen und ihre Bedeutung,” 91–106.

10 Suciu and Anghel, “Mărturii ale practicării plutăritului,” 376–87.

11 Rus, “Din istoricul societăţii de plutărit din Reghinul-Săsesc (1852–1908),” 91–95.

12 Marc, “Sisteme de transport şi de comercializare tradiţională a sării,” 152–57.

13 Szücs, “Auenbewirtschaftungsformen,” 237–50.

14 Király, “Die Donau ist die Form.”

15 Strider, “Ein Bericht,” 260–61; Rus, “Böhmische und slowakische Berichte,” 93.

16 Suciu and Anghel, “Mărturii,” 373.

17 Suciu and Anghel, “Mărturii,” 374.

18 Maire, Bemerkungen, 147.

19 Suciu and Anghel, “Mărturii,” 373.

20 Wollmann, “Der siebenbürgische Bergbau,” 42.

21 Müller, Wirtschaftspolitik, 57.

22 Rus, “Die Überschwemmungen,” 43–62.

23 von Hietzinger, Statistik der Militärgränze, 82–102.

24 Maire, Bemerkungen, 80–81.

25 Schönburg-Hartenstein and Zedinger, “Jean-Baptiste Brequin,” 69–71.

26 Maire, Bemerkungen, 21.

27 Voigt, Verkehr, 240.

28 Ibid., 238.

29 Ibid., 312.

30 Müller, Wirtschaftspolitik, 57.

31 Bossa, “Transportul,” 143–44.

32 Österreichisches Staatsarchiv, Neue Hofkammer, Siebenbürgische Kammerale, Salzwesen, No. 200, Year 1781: 281.

33 The Line is a unit of length equal to 1/10 or 1/12 of an Inch.

34 In the eighteenth century, a “Viennese foot” was equal to 32,032 cm (Trapp, 1998: 229).

35 ÖStA, NH, SK, Salzwesen, 200, 1781: 289–90.

36 Müller, Wirtschaftspolitik, 57.

37 Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Országos Levéltára, Erdélyi Országos Kormányhatósági Levéltárak, Gubernium transylvanicum levéltára, Gubernium transylvanicum in politicis, Ügyiratok F 46, 1786, No. 3997: 1–8.

38 Österreichisches Staatsarchiv, Neue Hofkammer, Siebenbürgische Kammerale, Salzwesen, 198, Jahr 1779: 169–217.

39 ÖStA, NH, SK, Salzwesen, 198, 1779: 172.

40 Ibid., 211.

41 As a unit of length, 1 klafter is equal to about 1.80 m.

42 Ibid., 24–27.

43 Ibid., 59.

44 Ibid., 28–56.

45 Ibid., 58–69.

46 ÖStA, NH, SK, Salzwesen, 198, 1779: 47.

47 Militärische Beschreibung von Hungarn / Anhang zu der Kriegs-Charte des Gross Fürstenthums Siebenbürgen. 

48 ÖStA, NH, SK, Salzwesen, 198, 1779: 169; 211.

49 Ibid., 171.

50 Ibid., 174.

51 Ibid., 194–211.

52 Ibid., 321–22.

53 ÖStA, NH, SK, Salzwesen, 200, 1781: 63–68.

54 ÖStA, NH, SK, Salzwesen, 198, 1779: 758–63.

55 Ibid., 28–56.

56 ÖStA, NH, SK, Salzwesen, 199, 1780: 42–51.

57 Ibid., 442–553.

58 Ibid., 1094–98.

59 Ibid., 1097.

60 Ibid., 1095.

61 Ibid., 1095–96.

62 ÖStA, NH, SK, Salzwesen, 200, 1781: 281–318.

63 Müller, Wirtschaftspolitik, 57.

64 Király, “Die Donau,” 30.

65 Király, “Die Donau,” 41.

66 Ibid., 43.

67 Suciu and Anghel, “Mărturii,” 375–76.

68 Marc, Evoluţia habitatului, 55.

69 Prodan, Din istoria Transilvaniei, 288.

70 Marc, “Izvoare etnografice surprinse, ” 479.

71 MNL OL F 46, 1786, No. 4544: 1–2.

72 MNL OL F 46, 1786, No. 5443: 3.

73 MNL OL F 46, 1786, No. 4544:1.

74 MNL OL F 46, 1786, No. 5443: 4–7.

75 MNL OL F 46, 1787, No. 6149: 1–7.

76 von Hoff, Chronik der Erdbeben, 74.

77 Armbruster, Dacoromana-Saxonica, 401.

78 Suciu and Anghel, “Mărturii,” 380.

79 Rus, “Die Überschwemmungen,” 43–63.

80 ANR-Cluj, collection: Tezaurariatul Minier, No. 49/1791, 23.


Figure 2. The meanders on the Mureş River

(ÖStA, NH, SK, Salzwesen, 199, no. 8, 2 December 1780.)


Figure 3. Wintering places for ships

(ÖStA, NH, SK, Salzwesen, 199, no. 8, 2 December 1780)


Figure 6. Topliţa during the Josephine land survey

(Dorel Marc, Evoluţia habitatului tradiţional în zona Topliţei Mureşului Superior (sec. XVII–XX). Tg. Mureş: Ardealul, 2009.)


Figure 7. Topliţa during the Franciscan-Josephine land survey

(Personal collection)

Figure 8. “Limba” and Ciugud in the year 1741. Military map of Alba Iulia, 1741.

(Plan der Hauptvestung Carlsburg in Furstenthum Siebenburgen, I. M. Eisele, Catalogue of Count Ferenc Széchényi´s Maps and Atlases, no. 89.)


pdfVolume 7 Issue 3 CONTENTS

Contextualizing the Mongol Invasion of Hungary in 1241–42: Short- and Long-Term Perspectives*

József Laszlovszky, Stephen Pow, Beatrix F. Romhányi, László Ferenczi, Zsolt Pinke

Corresponding author József Laszlovszky

Central European University

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The Mongol invasion in 1241–42 was a major disruption in the Kingdom of Hungary’s history that brought serious changes to many facets of its political, demographic, and military development. It became a long-lasting element of collective memory that influenced modern historical discourse. Nonetheless, questions remain about the level and distribution of destruction and population loss, the role that environmental factors played in the invasion, the reasons for the Mongol withdrawal, and how this episode can be used for interpreting later thirteenth and fourteenth-century phenomena. The present article aims to discuss these four issues, employing a combined analysis of the wide-ranging textual material and the newer archaeological and settlement data in their regional context.
We contend that new data supports the idea that destruction was unevenly distributed and concentrated in the Great Hungarian Plain. Furthermore, we express skepticism that environmental and climatic factors played the decisive role in the Mongol withdrawal in 1242, while we acknowledge the evidence that long-term climate change had substantial effects on Hungary’s settlement patterns and economy as early as the mid-thirteenth century. We conclude that a nuanced multi-causal explanation for the Mongol withdrawal is necessary, taking greater consideration of local resistance and the military failures of the Mongol army than has previously been represented in international literature. Lastly, we uphold a viewpoint that the Mongol invasion brought many catalysts to Hungary’s rapid development in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries.

Keywords: Mongol Empire, Kingdom of Hungary, Mongol invasion of Europe, Mongol invasion of Hungary, environmental history, medieval archaeology


The Mongol invasion of 1241–42 is among the key formative episodes in Hungarian history and has long been considered a threshold dividing periods in the Kingdom of Hungary’s development. Academic research has been consistently engaged with the topic since the mid-nineteenth century, discussing not only the events themselves, but the reasons for them and their greater historical consequences. Certain contemporaries of the events recorded that the country was destroyed or that it submitted to the Mongols, and some researchers have since assumed that it may have lost a significant part of its population.1 During the last two decades, a large quantity of new data has emerged from the field of archaeology. The first significant archaeological excavations were connected to motorway construction, but later these discoveries were followed up by targeted investigations.2 The new archaeological data has been intensively discussed in Central and Eastern European scholarly circles, but it has not been very much represented in the recent wider discussions on the history of the Mongol Empire. At the same time, more than four decades after Denis Sinor first suggested ecological drivers behind the Mongol departure from Europe,3 a new environmental theory is being put forward concerning why the Mongols broke off their campaign, opting not to occupy Hungary after many military successes. Ulf Büntgen and Nicola Di Cosmo offered a viewpoint that the Mongol withdrawal in 1242 was largely driven by short-term climatic fluctuation and environmental concerns, i.e., the Mongols’ inability to properly provision their troops and animals.4 Their theory attracted mainstream global media attention in many high-profile popular publications.5 The authors of the present article responded to this new explanation in a previous article; however, we limited our arguments to the viewpoint that short-term climate was likely not behind the withdrawal without attempting to provide an alternative explanation for the mysterious event.6 This current article will move in the direction of offering an alternative explanation.

Theoretical and Methodological Issues

Our endeavor here is to seek multi-causal interpretations to the events of the invasion and aftermath, using the range of related data that is emerging. This means employing short- as well as long-term perspectives with a nuanced contextualization of textual, archaeological, climatic, and environmental data. The discussion of the events and their consequences takes into account settlement patterns, the evolving church and monastic network, material culture, building projects, etc. as indicators of ongoing economic and social processes which also shed light on the invasion and recovery. We intend to take a wider perspective, focusing not only on the short invasion itself but the whole period from 1220s until the mid-fourteenth century. This long-term perspective is crucial because of the large climatic shift that can be detected between the early thirteenth and the mid-fourteenth century.7 The long-term perspective is also essential because the crisis and recovery connected to the Mongol invasion unfolded for a long time after the withdrawal in 1242. In this respect, we pursue the path laid about by Jenő Szűcs by analyzing the economic and social transformation processes up to the mid-fourteenth century.8 While this long-term perspective has existed in previous scholarship, relevant data was unavailable. Thus, earlier viewpoints remained hypothetical and pertinent issues were only discussed in a limited way.9 Now with a new set of available data, several lingering questions should be revisited.


In the following discussion, we will explore four broad topics related to the Mongol invasion and subsequent recovery, with the aim of incorporating data that has emerged from strengthening interdisciplinary approaches:

1. The level and distribution of destruction caused by the Mongol invasion in Hungary.

2. The impact of short- and long-term environmental and climatic changes on the Mongol invasion and Hungary’s subsequent recovery.

3. The reasons behind the Mongol withdrawal from Hungary in 1242.

4. The aftermath of 1242 and subsequent recovery of Hungary in the long-term perspective.

The Level and Distribution of Destruction in the Mongol Invasion of 1241–42

The topic of the scope of the destruction inflicted by the first Mongol invasion of Hungary has long been debated, and it carries important implications for how we conceptualize the event and its consequences. Estimates of the total population losses could range as high as 50 percent to conservative numbers of perhaps 10–15 percent.10 While this is still a very large segment of the population, one could imagine such losses being replaced by immigration and natural population growth in the long term. However, we must emphasize that there is not enough data from which to determine population losses in 1241–42, or even the population size of thirteenth-century Hungary. There quite simply exists no precise information with which to reconstruct either. Historians can use indirect evidence to glean some idea on population size and loss. Data we can use are, for example, the proportion of deserted villages, and the transformation of the monastic network. A better insight into the demographic situation of the 1330s is offered by the papal tithe list, even though some uncertainties remain.11 Also, recent research on the monastic network and parish system seems to supply better indicators of population loss than abandoned villages.12 Taking into account the small number of written sources related to one settlement or the character and dating value of archaeological finds coming from excavated deserted villages from the thirteenth century, it is not clear which villages were deserted as a result of their destruction by the Mongol army, the short-term consequences of the invasion, or the long-term social and economic changes. Only a significantly smaller part of settlements with direct written sources about their destruction or excavated sites with traces of particular destruction features and strong dating evidence (e.g., coins dated to the invasion period) can be connected to the event itself.13 Nonetheless, the endless debates about what percentage of the population died in the invasion remain purely hypothetical and thus are essentially a futile exercise. Spatial patterns of destruction, however, can give us a better idea of which areas were most heavily affected, and which areas were lightly affected.

While the exact number of victims must remain a mystery, the surviving contemporary sources clearly describe a cataclysm of unprecedented character—essentially, a wholesale destruction of the people of Hungary. Moreover, the reconstruction of the event has up to recent decades relied almost exclusively on these textual sources, mainly narratives and charters. An exceptional source, the Carmen miserabile of Master Rogerius,14 written shortly after the events, has long played a crucial role in reconstructing the story of the invasion. This work, written in Latin by a high-ranking churchman taken prisoner by the Mongols, describes a litany of atrocities committed by the invaders, violating contemporary European notions of what was permissible in war,15 with the authenticity of an eyewitness perspective. This and the other contemporary sources, including those written in other European states,16 and even far outside of Europe,17 suggested that the Hungarian Kingdom almost collapsed in 1241–42 amidst an orgy of slaughter. For instance, Rogerius wrote, “Behold, during that summer [1241] they destroyed everything all the way to the borders of Austria, Bohemia, Moravia, Poland, Silesia, and Cumania as far as the Danube.”18 After the Mongols managed to cross the Danube the following winter, the destruction on the other side of the river was similarly extensive if we judge solely by the account of Rogerius, which states that when the Mongols suddenly withdrew, only the citadel of Esztergom, the city of Székesfehérvár, and the monastery of Pannonhalma were still holding out: “Only these three places remained unconquered in that region.”19 Describing what he saw as a prisoner, taking part in the march back across Transylvania during the withdrawal, he wrote, “With the exception of a few castles, they occupied the whole country and as they passed through they left the country desolate and empty.”20 The image of a formerly populated and prosperous country reduced to a desert appears repeatedly, and Rogerius was not alone in offering this picture of catastrophic defeat and depopulation. Thomas of Split, another contemporary churchman, described how the invaders “wasted the whole realm of Hungary with their raging sword” and how “bodies lay scattered over the fields, and the corpses of the common people lined the roads in countless numbers” in the ensuing famine.21 Nor were the authors of the major narrative accounts solely responsible for the portrayal of the total destruction of the country and its population. Chroniclers sometimes noted in their brief entries for the year that the Kingdom of Hungary had been “destroyed” in the sense of being obliterated from continued existence. Béla IV, writing to the pope several years after the Mongol withdrawal, reported that his kingdom had been “reduced to a desert by the scourge of the Tartars.”22

The image of thorough and evenly spread destruction throughout the Kingdom of Hungary is quite pervasive in the textual records. However, new findings paint a rather different picture of a very uneven distribution of destruction throughout the kingdom, which requires us to ask why medieval authors were so keen to portray the devastation as uniform and total. It is important to remember that the authors had motivations and were often in a loose sense confined by the rules of genre. Put another way, a clergyman or king, bewailing the suffering to which he and the people of Hungary were subjected, might not take a nuanced approach in determining the exact scope of destruction afflicted on the country on a region-by-region basis. Thus, it is essential for historians to use the sources cautiously, not rejecting the textual material with the sort of hyper-skepticism that causes researchers to divest themselves of useful information for reconstructing past scenarios, but rather to use them in connection with findings from archaeological sites with destruction features, hoards, and settlement archaeology, broadening our picture of the events.

A vast number of new sites and excavated features are being discussed, with interdisciplinary approaches increasingly being used to better resolve lingering questions surrounding the process of the invasion,23 and helping to document the real evidence of its brutality.24 Recent finds show villagers seeking shelter in the oven of a house,25 unburied corpses in ditches,26 casualties of battle,27 people slaughtered regardless of age or sex, corpses buried haphazardly in the ruins of a burned house, and corpses of those who might have died of epidemics and starvation.28 Very recent finds detail the concentrated massacre of young females and evidence of cannibalism.29 The shocking brutality of indiscriminate slaughter and the resultant trauma likely drove contemporary authors to emphasize the totality of the destruction. Besides the evidence of mass-killing, many coin and treasure hoards that were discovered during the last century have been connected to the Mongol invasion.30 Moreover, research revealed another important aspect of the events, namely, that burned settlements with features of destruction and desertion processes can be connected to the hoard sites, and the spatial distribution of these areas can be interpreted in the context of the invasion because the areas in which they are concentrated are quite well-defined. (Map.1)

The discovery of coin hoards connected to the invasion is revealing about the areas most affected by Mongol attacks. Hoards are related to destruction in the sense that they were buried as a response to the invaders, but there are different kinds of hoards in the period (coin hoards, jewelry, mixed hoards, iron objects) and they represent a complex relationship to the military events. The spatial distribution of coin hoards is also a result of the scale of a money economy in an area, while other types may represent different economic and social contexts.31 Mapping the sites where they have been discovered reveals, however, that most of the hoard finds were concentrated in the Great Hungarian Plain, namely, in its northeast and central parts. The corpses that show signs of being connected to the invasion—unburied, buried offhand in hasty fashion, or victims of what appears to be mass murder32—are also concentrated in the same region. The only site in Transdanubia (the western side of the Danube) showing this type of violence that has so far been connected to the Mongol invasion, a one-time farm or manor located near Dunaföldvár,33 is also related to the concentration of other mass murder sites. It is on the right-bank part of a heavily used ford on the Danube, so the destruction there is like related to a successful Mongol attempt to cross the river. The locations where Cumans subsequently settled, as previous research has clearly demonstrated, is also connected to the most devastated areas, and beside the central part of the Great Hungarian Plain, the small eastern region of Transdanubia, where the find was made, also became a Cuman settlement.34

Regarding the spatial distribution of destruction and its concentration in certain areas of the Kingdom of Hungary, the build-up of evidence and lack of finds in certain areas continues to reinforce conclusions about an uneven pattern of destruction, concentrated heavily on the Great Hungarian Plain. Many rescue excavations were made in the last two decades in various sites, among them a large number in areas that had never been investigated previously. Thus, the lack of finds in specific regions cannot be explained any longer by a lack of research. In fact, the contemporary textual evidence supports this picture of the Mongol army mainly plundering and devastating the Great Hungarian Plain. Their details concerning the nature of the Mongol occupation, at least the account of Rogerius and a letter of Béla IV to the pope dated to January 1242,35 corroborate this version of events.36 The latter document emphasized that the Mongols had not yet crossed the Danube—mere months before their evacuation of the Carpathian Basin. This had much to do with the fact that Hungarians on the western side of the river were still capable of putting up resistance until the river froze, around the time the letter was written, enabling a crossing.

Archaeology supports another facet of the account of Rogerius. He detailed how peasants from 70 surrounding villages in the Great Hungarian Plain gathered at a “new village” called Pereg, evidently to bolster their ability to resist. The Mongols only took it after a week, having filled up the moat.37 Recently, a number of sites with enormous ditches around churches have been found in the Great Hungarian Plain.38 Evidently villagers were gathering at these sites for mutual defense, but in all cases, the settlements appear to have fallen to the invader. Sites in the open plain lacked natural defenses, and when combined with the length of the time the Mongols had to conduct their attacks on these points over the course of 1241, they proved unable to hold out. It seems that it was difficult for people in an open plain to escape. Simon of Saint Quentin, a Dominican emissary to the Mongols, detailed Mongol methods of carefully planting ambushes for fleeing refugees, blocking access to mountains and woodlands that might offer defensive hideouts.39 They employed hunting tactics in war; Rashid al-Din reported that they advanced against Europe in jerge formation, a hunting circle or battue, when the campaign commenced.40

Based on the above points-of-view we can draw a conclusion that the central parts of the country were much more devastated than other regions of the kingdom. However, the Great Hungarian Plain was likely not the most densely populated part of the country.41 Furthermore, the textual sources attest that only some of the victims of the Mongol invasion died in battle, sieges, or massacres. Many of them lost their lives while escaping or in the famine triggered by upheaval of the year-long occupation.

While population size and loss during the invasion must remain in doubt, the uneven regional distribution of both is evident. Reasons for this in part stem from the way the Mongols advanced as well as how they waged war. One viewpoint is that the Mongols confined themselves largely to advancing along the main roads of the Kingdom of Hungary, whereas another point of view contends that they did not follow roads but rather moved through the countryside.42 Our impression is that on the Great Hungarian Plain they were systematically laying waste to the entire region, going off the main roads, and thus there were few local people in the area who could escape them. On the western side of the Danube, in Transdanubia, the situation seems to have been different, judging by textual, archaeological, and settlement data. The occupation was shorter—only a few months in early 1242. Moreover, it appears that in western Transdanubia, particularly in the southwestern areas such as Somogy, along with Zala and Vas counties, the destruction afflicted by the invasion was minimal.43 In some of these areas, the dense network of local churches, particularly brick churches, is an indicator of the lower level of destruction. The majority of these buildings can be firmly dated to the thirteenth century, so before or after the invasion.44 This implies that they were either not destroyed during the invasion, or they were built afterwards, which also means that the village communities were not devastated, and they were able to build new churches or renovate wooden ones in brick. Evidently the dense woodlands in that region, which remained until the fourteenth century,45 offered refuge for the populace. We see a similar situation in the heavily wooded parts of what is today’s Slovakia—in the Spiš region, for instance. The Mongols did go into these areas, but it seems that they mainly passed through or confined their attacks to targets along the main roads, quite unlike the situation that unfolded over the Great Hungarian Plain throughout the occupation. In Transdanubia the textual sources support the findings of damage inflicted along the main road or on major targets like Pannonhalma.46

It is clear as well that southwestern Hungary was the last part to be attacked and so the damage there was, again, quite limited. One piece of evidence comes from the events that followed the Mongol withdrawal. The vigorous and effective action Béla IV took against Friedrich II Babenberg of Austria almost immediately to recover his western territories, as well as the Hungarian king’s ongoing struggle to acquire the Babenberg heritage after Friedrich’s death in 1244,47 are surprising if we imagine that Hungary’s entire military was destroyed only a few years beforehand. This suggests that Hungary still had a base of military power in the western part of the country—likely comprised of forces that had not taken part in the Battle of Muhi. Moreover, the southwest region of Hungary may have been, both before and after the Mongol invasion, the most populous part of the entire kingdom; that was certainly the case in the fourteenth century.48 This is another clue that the area had not been heavily affected by the Mongols.

In general, the level of resistance appears to have been greater than what is suggested in the main narrative sources of Rogerius and Thomas of Split. The more effective resistance in Transdanubia was made possible in large part by the Danube. A few years after the invasion, in his letter to the pope, Béla IV emphasized the strategic value of the river, noting that during the invasion it had functioned as a strong fortified line, enabling the outmatched Hungarian defenders to repel the Mongols for ten months.49 We should not think that the river by itself could have played this role since the sources from a wide range of societies attest that Mongols could cross even larger rivers without their presenting a serious problem—though, in fairness, they intentionally waited for them to freeze in their earlier campaign against the Russian principalities, as was attested by Friar Julian.50 Evidently the entire Hungarian army was not annihilated at Muhi though the losses were great and comprised important royal and ecclesiastical contingents. Yet, even Rogerius stressed how several unwilling nobles ignored the call to muster in the lead-up to the battle or managed to escape. For instance, Count Ladislaus of Somogy, who was rushing to aid of the king, received the news of the defeat and fled with his men and the contingent of the Bishop of Pécs, who narrowly escaped from the Hungarian camp.51 Bishop Benedict of Oradea also escaped with his troops across the Danube before the battle.52 The strong resistance of the citadel of Esztergom, which held out, suggests that valuable military forces remained in the country.53 Rogerius also acknowledges that the Mongols did not cross the Danube earlier than they did because the fords were vigorously defended on the other side with troops even breaking up the ice or fighting on it daily.54

The intensity of resistance and the number of fortified settlements caused problems for the Mongols even in the eastern parts of the country. Although Mongol armies are recorded to have had much experience besieging large fortifications (e.g. Kiev, Kaifeng, Baghdad), their forces in Hungary probably were not expecting a situation in which even villages, such as Pereg, were fortifying themselves and resisting. In the Great Hungarian Plain with its looser settlement network, the Mongols were forced to besiege at least five strongholds between Oradea (Nagyvárad) and Cenad (Csanád): besides the two bishopric centers, there was Tămaşda (Tamáshida), an unnamed island in the Körös River,55 and the Cistercian Abbey of Igriş (Egres). Once the Mongols crossed into Transdanubia in early 1242, the situation became considerably worse. A letter from the Hungarian defenders of many different castles, monasteries, and towns, written in 1242, asked for military aid from Rome. Nevertheless, the defenders described a well-planned defense in response to the Mongols crossing the river and voiced confidence in their ability to repel the invaders from their strategic positions.56

In general, the large narrative accounts of the invasion portray a different image of the effectiveness of resistance compared to the aforementioned letter or the charters of the king which often commemorated the heroic actions of various noblemen and the citizens of towns. Thomas of Split for instance referred to the “useless preparations” made by the citizens of Pest to defend their town against the Mongols.57 Rogerius seemed ready to describe any defeat of Hungarian forces, no matter how insignificant. Currently the big narratives, and the lamentations of rulers and clergymen over what we today would call a humanitarian disaster, seem to take precedence in international literature over the charter evidence. Yet, it is a byword of Hungarian medievalists that the country’s history is reconstructed from charters. It is our view that when these two types of documents are juxtaposed, we see a rather more balanced picture of the level of Hungarian resistance. If more emphasis is given especially to Béla IV’s brief mentions of acts of resistance,58 successful examples of people crossing the Danube to aid their countrymen,59 and otherwise unrecorded victories over contingents of the invaders,60 the image we have of the progress of Mongol invasion changes markedly.61 Furthermore, in scholarship there is a tendency to connect any sign of devastation or decline to the Mongol invasion. Deserted villages, building phases of churches, and the dating of liturgical objects from Limoges were connected directly to the devastation of Hungary.62 More recently many of the proposed connections between the destruction of the invasion and certain archaeological features have been questioned.63

The Short- and Long-Term Impact of Environmental and Climatic Changes on the Mongol Invasion and Hungary’s Recovery

The role of climate is increasingly recognized as having a major influence on historical events, and climate data is being used to offer new interpretations. Climatic connections to the development of the Mongol Empire are a topic of important recent studies.64 Recently, Büntgen and Di Cosmo offered the viewpoint that a short-term climatic fluctuation in early 1242, characterized by cold and wet weather, was the primary driver behind the Mongols’ decision to abruptly withdraw in 1242.65 We do not disagree with their interpretation of the climatic trend, but we disagree about it being the main cause for the withdrawal. While the present article does continue to look in part at the role of environmental and climatic issues connected with the Mongol invasion, the aim here is not to perpetuate a debate focused solely on a single historical episode. The recognition of the importance of exploring environmental issues related to pasturage, raised by Sinor in 1972,66 and the usage of climatic data in addressing the problem of the Mongol withdrawal, represent an intention to shed light on historical events of great significance for global history. Researchers seeking answers to complex questions (related to the level of destruction, the reasons for the withdrawal, the consequences of the invasion, etc.) obviously should use the full variety of tools and perspectives available to gain insight into the historical past.

A key issue in looking at the role of environmental influences on the events of the Mongol invasion pertains to the well-documented famine. Shortly in the aftermath of the Mongol invasion, severe famine affected the local Hungarian population and Büntgen and Di Cosmo view this as a result of the short-term wet and cold spell in 1242. As such, the issue affected the local population but also the Mongols who opted to withdraw, owing in part to the problem of feeding troops and animals alike. Taking a short-term perspective on this episode, the textual material stemming from contemporaries makes it very hard to accept that the famine was not a man-made phenomenon. Thomas of Split viewed it as the direct result of the displaced peasantry being forced to abandon their crop fields for two growing seasons—first they had been unable to harvest in 1241 and then they were unable to sow in 1242.67 Rogerius, a prisoner in the Mongol camp, noted that some peasants had been allowed to harvest certain crops but only to supply them to the Mongols in 1241.68 Jan Długosz, who wrote his chronicle much later but who recorded a number of valuable and unique pieces of information, noted that the draught animals had all been seized by the Mongols so that in the aftermath of the invasion, peasants desperately yoked themselves to ploughs in attempt to resume planting.69 Naturally if the farmers were unable to cultivate crops because they could not stay on their fields owing to the disruption and danger of the invasion, and if their draught animals had been looted, serious famine was going to set in.

It should not surprise us that the sources testify to widespread starvation among the Hungarian population after the Mongols left if we take a broader view of the Mongol conquests beyond the borders of Hungary. Shortly after the invasion, a Dominican emissary, Simon of St. Quentin, was sent into the Mongol Empire to contact their leaders on behalf of Pope Innocent IV. He passed through many regions that had been affected recently by invasions and eventually met with the Mongols in Armenia. In his report, in a section detailing Mongol methods of waging war, he was emphatic: “In every country which the Tartars destroy, famine always follows.”70 What his report would suggest is that Mongol invasions consistently triggered famine in all the affected areas, far beyond Hungary. The famines the Mongols triggered were intentional—a sort of weapon to crush resistance. When we consider Simon’s testimony, it is hard to entertain the notion that the starvation which affected Hungary’s people in 1242 was the result of a short-term fluctuation in climate, or even a unique experience for populations that had experienced a Mongol invasion.71

Taking the long-term perspective on the impact of climate on the invasion and its aftermath, recent studies suggests that famine on such a scale was an extremely unusual phenomenon in Hungary in the period—in fact, even the Little Ice Age did not cause a countrywide famine.72 Yet, climatic and environmental changes were having an impact. The years of the Mongol invasion (1241–42) belong to a substantial transformation period of the climate regime when we detect the first traces of what has been identified as an early phase of the coolest period in written history. Tree ring-based temperature reconstruction from the Eastern Carpathians shows that summers and winters became cooler in the mid-thirteenth century for a sustained period.73 Using archaeobotanical remains, a hydroclimatic reconstruction suggests that the decades between 1241–1301 in the Great Hungarian Plain became significantly more humid than in the preceding two centuries, and this higher level of humidity was permanent during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.74 Palaeoglaciological reconstructions from the heart of the Alps reveal a warming phase with a low tide of glaciers in the mid-thirteenth century, while a cooling phase with significantly growing glaciers around 1300 marks the onset of the Little Ice Age.75 The extraordinarily cold winter of 1241–42 also speaks to the structural transformation of the climate regime in Central Europe. That a short deviation in temperatures became something of a decisive factor during the Mongol invasion in Hungary is clear. As mentioned, after the battle of Muhi, the Mongols had been blocked on the line of the Danube River for roughly nine months. Despite the efforts of the Hungarians, who defended the western part of the river and regularly broke the ice during the severe winter, the Mongols were at last able to cross the ice on horseback and resume their conquests.76 So climate is documented to have played a decisive role in the course of the invasion—it just seems to have worked to the strategic advantage of the Mongols rather than the Hungarians.

The effects of the climatic change can also be studied in a later period, which is much more characterized by economic recovery and population increase. In short critical episodes, e.g., in the 1310s77 and the 1330s,78 the evident medieval climatic change could have certainly presented serious challenges for the population, mainly related to higher floodwater levels.79 Nonetheless, Hungary lies at the western border of the steppe belt with warm summers and a relative dearth of precipitation for crop production, so that the most powerful limiting factor for agricultural production was drought, even during the Little Ice Age.80 Thus, in the long-term, the mid-thirteenth-century climatic shift provided more optimal cool and humid conditions for agriculture than earlier. This point identifies a bio-climatological factor behind the fourteenth and fifteenth century’s period of prosperity for Hungary’s agriculture and its agriculturally based economy.

The direction of the long-term transformation of climatic features in the Hungarian Kingdom had another substantial effect on social organization. Landscape historical research has demonstrated a significant rise in the altitude of settlements in various regions from the eleventh–thirteenth centuries to the fourteenth–sixteenth centuries, e.g., in the Trans-Tisza region,81 in the Kalocsa-Sárköz,82 and on the southern shore of Lake Balaton.83 Árpádian-age settlements were generally built at a lower altitude above-sea level than late medieval ones, and the areas suitable for establishing settlements shrank by the fourteenth–fifteenth century. All these phenomena and some archaeological surveys of abandoned settlements suggest that the environment could have been a protagonist among drivers behind the transformation of the settlement network in the Great Hungarian Plain and the depopulation of certain regions of the landscape.84 The massive desertion which is evident during the period could have begun as early as in the first half of the thirteenth century and the process did not end before the first half of the fourteenth century. Thus, the Mongols did not solely initiate the regional settlement changes, but they gave a very drastic impulse to what was in fact a longer transition. Otherwise, after the withdrawal of Batu Khan’s army, the Hungarian king could have carried out reforms to bring about a resettlement of the depopulated region, besides coping with the population losses and destruction.

The Reasons Behind the Mongol Withdrawal in 1242

Greg S. Rogers, noting that it was still a topic of debate which had not yielded a single, satisfying explanation, offered a systematic look at theories for the Mongol withdrawal from Hungary. Writing over two decades ago, he organized the existing theories for the withdrawal into four broad categories. First was the long-standing “political theory” that a succession crisis, precipitated by the death of Ögödei Khan in December 1241, forced the withdrawal. This is mostly based on the explanation which Carpini provided in his report, a few years after the invasion.85 Secondly, there was the “geographical theory” of Denis Sinor, which offered an explanation rooted in environmental determinism, namely, that the Mongols withdrew because the Great Hungarian Plain offered insufficient fodder for their herds, and they would have had to limit the size of their army to the point that an effective conquest was impossible.86 Then there was the “military weakness” theory which suggested that stiff resistance during the entire western campaign through Kipchak and Russian territories, and subsequently in East-Central Europe, deterred the Mongols from continuing. Rogers noted there were aspects of the literature which supported it, but also pointed out the all-too obvious reasons why this theory might appeal to some modern scholars.87 Lastly, there were ideas which can be grouped into a “gradual conquest” theory which holds that the invasion was intended as an exploratory raid rather than a permanent occupation or conquest.88 He then pointed out the criticisms levelled at each theory which showed that all had problems that prevented any uniform agreement among scholars.89

In the time since Greg S. Rogers wrote, novel theories have appeared, but they basically fall within the broad categories he established. Timothy May has suggested that in addition to the impetus to withdraw provided by the khan’s death, the Mongols had a “tsunami” strategy of conquering in a series of invasions, rather than a single one, which suggests the “limited goals” theory was at play in the case of Hungary in 1241–42.90 Büntgen and Di Cosmo’s most recent “environmental hypothesis” seems grounded on the same principles as Sinor’s theory, namely, that the environment of Hungary proved unsuitable to the Mongols for permanent occupation. The notable difference is that Büntgen and Di Cosmo suggested this resulted from short-term climate fluctuation which can be demonstrated through dendroclimatological methods, whereas Denis Sinor suggested long-term unsuitability based on a highly speculative calculation of the carrying capacity of Hungary—one that certainly is not supported by the livestock data of the Early Modern Period.91

In our view, taking a broad perspective relying on a wide range of data, any monocausal explanation appears to be insufficient to explain the withdrawal. However, what can be clearly observed is that there was more resistance to the invasion than has hitherto been acknowledged in scholarship, and a dichotomy exists between how surviving narrative sources and other textual sources, such as the rather overlooked charter evidence, present this resistance. Clearly, Mongol objectives were being foiled. Neither the king, nor even local conglomerations of peasants in many cases, submitted without fighting. By early 1242, the king had escaped to the sea and the Mongol prince, Qadan, was quite incapable of capturing him at Trogir, nor did the Mongols manage to reduce any other major strategic point in Dalmatia.92 The failure to achieve important goals and possible perceptions of the growing set of strategic problems, for instance, when they advanced into Transdanubia, may have convinced the Mongol leaders that it was best to withdraw for the time being. The fact remains that source materials, originally composed in Mongolian and surviving in the Chinese Yuan Shi, detail that the Mongols were rather fearful of the Hungarian army and their princes wished to flee from the country already during the Battle of Muhi in early 1241; they were only narrowly deterred from carrying out the plan.93 This closely corroborates Carpini’s account that the Mongols tried to flee during the battle, and were barely prevented from fleeing the country.94 It is difficult to ignore a situation where Mongol and Latin sources corroborate one another. Thus, it is a very serious oversight if modern scholarship decides to discount a priori the possibility that local resistance could have played any role in the Mongol decision to withdraw in 1242. Of course, other factors such as rumors of the khan’s illness in Mongolia and environmental factors could have played a role. Moreover, the withdrawal did not mark the end of the Mongols’ interests in Europe and Hungary. Threats and ultimatums continued, and they returned in force to the kingdom in 1285.95 The withdrawal may well have been a temporary measure initiated by a sense that the occupiers’ strategic problems were worsening in early 1242, but it hardly marked the end of the Mongols’ imperial ambitions in Europe and elsewhere. Indeed, many polities in the southeast of Europe submitted to the Mongols periodically during the second half of the thirteenth century.96

Recovery: Political, Social, and Economic Changes in the Long-Term Perspective

One of the most notable signs of recovery that began immediately and continued in the decades after the Mongol withdrawal occurred in the military sphere. Historian Erik Fügedi found many examples in the charter evidence that contained Béla’s stated intention to strengthen the kingdom and better protect its remaining people by creating policies that fostered the quick building of castles on suitable sites. While this wave of castle-building was well-known in Hungarian scholarship for at least a hundred years, Fügedi’s own work first provided specific numbers; between 147 and 172 new castles were built between 1242 and 1300, and 22 towns with privileges were established in the first three decades of this flurry of activity. Fügedi was also careful to make the distinction between the “enthusiasm” for this building activity experienced by nobles who were granted incentives, increasing their own power vis-à-vis the monarch, and the ordinary populace whose frustration at bearing the labor and tax burden sometimes comes through in the extant records.97 Moreover, his analysis, especially when manifested visually in the form of maps, reveals a rather unexpected and paradoxical trend. The vast majority of the castles built in the second half of the thirteenth century were not situated in the eastern and central plains of the country, which had borne the brunt of the Mongol occupation in 1241–42, but rather close to the western and northern borders of fellow-European rivals such as Austria and Bohemia.98 This raises questions about intentions for the castles since renewed Mongol invasions would come from the east; the Mongols had merely based themselves on the Dasht-i-Qipchaq from which they continued to issue ultimatums and threats of attack.

The puzzling phenomenon of the location of castles can be explained foremost by the phenomenon highlighted in the first point of this discussion. Destruction was severe in some areas and light in others, and the areas, i.e. the western regions, which retained a strong population and economy were the most likely to have the means and necessity to carry out the huge investment of castle building. The distribution of castles has a loose inverse relationship to the distribution of sites showing concentrated signs of Mongol destruction. A second issue relates to the strategic suitability of sites for castle-building. The lessons of the first invasion evidently informed the survivors as to which sites were defensible. For instance, Lapis Refugii in the Spiš region became the site of a later Carthusian monastery after it had proven to be a useful improvised Fluchtburg during the events of 1241–42.99 The emergence of the fortified hilltop town of Buda, as well, is one of the best indicators of this new process.100

Béla IV’s ability to wage war against his Austrian and Bohemian neighbors, and to interfere in Polish dynastic conflicts, in the immediate years after the Mongol withdrawal is not necessarily a sign that a significant depopulation did not occur during the invasion and subsequent famine, but he was still clearly capable of mobilizing sizeable military forces afterwards. A major factor in this was that he had recruited and settled large numbers of Cumans in his kingdom by 1246. The Prussian chronicler Nicolaus von Jeroschin, writing of Béla’s defeat at the hands of Ottokar in 1260, claimed that Béla’s army was composed of 40,000 knights—“mercenaries from many countries, according to what I have heard.”101 Cumans supplied a strong military presence in the kingdom in the second half of the thirteenth century. Rashid al-Din, writing under Mongol auspices, described Hungary as a massive kingdom stretching from Cumania to the domains of Aquila and that its king commanded an “innumerable army.” Nonetheless, he contended that the Golden Horde’s Noqai had managed to conquer Hungary after attacking it incessantly.102 It is significant that Rashid al-Din’s description of the Hungarians’ innumerable army refers to his own context of the late thirteenth century and the Mongol invasion of 1285. While it exceeds the scope of this work to discuss that second invasion in detail, it should be mentioned that the Mongols encountered much more effective resistance which reveals that lessons from the first invasion had been learned.103

Beyond military trends, looking at the long-term developments taking place in Hungary for roughly a century after the Mongol invasion sheds light on the events and their impact. There is a basic dichotomy in the historical interpretation of the period from the mid-thirteenth to the mid-fourteenth century concerning major processes taking place in Europe, particularly regarding crisis periods and the recovery following them.104 In the long-term context, significant changes took place in Hungary following the invasion. In the second half of the thirteenth century, it adopted the social and economic innovations which made possible the thirteenth-century expansion and development in Western Europe (agricultural production systems, peasant economy, urban development), and further innovations appeared in the first half of the fourteenth century (hospes population, free land, new areas for colonization, etc.), a period characterized by social and economic resilience, including in an urban context.105 The challenges of climate change in the period after the Mongol invasion remained at the local or small-scale regional level, unless man-made problems, namely, the side effects of war, contributed to the environmental stressors.106 Probably the first period of largescale animal export to southern German towns and to northern Italy (Venice) contributed to Hungary’s favorable conditions; the growth and overpopulation of urban centers elsewhere worked as a positive factor in Hungary’s development, as the relatively underpopulated kingdom started to become a major food exporter for these areas.107 Other factors, such as intensification of silver and gold mining, contributed to Hungary’s prosperity in a significant way.108 The combined elements of a strong economy, such as its mines and animal husbandry-centered complex agrarian production, coupled with a stable political system and with regional cooperation of local kingdoms, resulted in a subsequent period of rapid development.


Based on the preceding discussion we can draw the following conclusions:

1. Regarding the destruction inflicted by the Mongol invasion, there is little reason to persist with the debate on whether it was a very low or very high percentage of the population that died as a result. There is no relevant source material which can be discussed in such precise terms, but the events following the withdrawal of the Mongols make us rather skeptical of higher estimates. New archaeological data combined with a wide range of sources can lead to very detailed spatial analyses pertaining to the level of destruction on a regional basis, as well as characteristic features of that destruction. The number of archaeological sites and data is continuously increasing, adding to our knowledge of the course of events. From the combination of data, we have to conclude that significant parts of the country were not heavily destroyed. Research on the hoards of the period and the medieval settlement, church, and urban network also support the conclusion that the destruction of people, settlements, and infrastructure was very unevenly distributed. Furthermore, the resistance of Hungarian forces, even after the defeat at Muhi, was significantly more sustained than has been suggested by previous scholarship, particularly in the western part of the kingdom.

2. In accordance with the preceding point, some of the destruction was connected to environmental issues, and the significant famine which appeared as the Mongols withdrew in 1242. That there was a unique environmental challenge is now clearly demonstrated not only by written evidence but also by climate reconstructions. Nonetheless, the balance of evidence suggests that it was basically a man-made famine, albeit one that could have been exacerbated by environmental changes that were taking place. This conclusion is especially plausible when we consider that the natural long-term changes were much more severe in the decades following the invasion, particularly the first decades of the fourteenth century, and still they did not create the issue of an enduring countrywide famine.

3. Regarding the reasons for the Mongol withdrawal in 1242, no monocausal explanation can be offered. There were a host of factors at play, but the basic issue seems to lie with the objectives of the Mongols. As the invasion progressed, they were unable to achieve key objectives like capturing the king or obtaining his submission. Sources from a Mongol perspective correspond with European accounts that they were already considering withdrawal at the Battle of Muhi, the numbers of the enemy were a problem, and they faced the real possibility of a coordinated counterattack from other hostile parties in the region. Stiff resistance is the one explanation with which we see these textual sources fully corroborate each other at points.

4. The long-term recovery of Hungary was a complex process, and facets of it were not so much initiated as catalyzed by the invasion. The 1285 invasion shows how much was learned from the initial experience, while Hungary proved capable of economic and military growth in the aftermath. The prosperity which Hungary and the surrounding region experienced in the following century, when many other parts of Europe were in deep crisis, suggests that the destruction of Hungary was partial and rather limited in many areas.


In the short-term context, the Mongol invasion of Hungary in 1241–42 was a brief historical episode, but one in which the nobility, clergy, and population of the country suffered an enormous shock. They encountered a little-known and poorly understood enemy—not a raiding band of steppe horsemen, but a well-organized and large army attacking the country with the intention to subjugate or destroy the population. Especially in the Great Hungarian Plain, their tactics inflicted profound destruction. Archaeological evidence now corroborates claims of mass murder affecting women and children.109 Settlements were burned, towns destroyed, and famine was intentionally caused which continued to claim casualties long after the Mongols left the country, having plundered its livestock. It is no wonder that the Mongol invasion imprinted such deep memories on the population.


We thank the anonymous reviewers for their careful reading of our manuscript and their many insightful comments and suggestions.

The basic concept of this article was developed by J. Laszlovszky, partly as a reflection on his earlier study (1994). Historical events in the written sources on the invasion were discussed by S. Pow. The issues connected to the spatial distribution of sites were discussed by B. F. Romhányi. L. Ferenczi contributed to the collection of relevant research material. Environmental-historical issues and the impact of climatic changes were analyzed by Z. Pinke.

This work was supported by NRDIO grants K128880 and PD128970 and it is a contribution to the PAGES Landcover6k project.



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Szűcs, Jenő. Az utolsó Árpádok [The Last Árpáds]. Budapest: Magyar Tudományos Akadémia Történettudományi Intézete, 1993.

Thackston, Wheeler. Rashiduddin Fazlullah’s Jami’u’tawarikh: Compendium of Chronicles. 2nd Edition. Cambridge, Boston: Harvard University Press, 1998–1999.

Tóth, Csaba. “A tatárjárás korának pénzekkel keltezett kincsleletei” [Coin-dated Treasure Hoards from the Period of the Mongol Invasion]. In A tatárjárás (1241–1242) [The Mongol Invasion (1241–1242)], edited by Ágnes Ritoók, and Éva Garam, 79–90. Budapest: Magyar Nemzeti Múzeum, 2007.

Vadas, András. “Late Medieval Environmental Changes of the Southern Great Hungarian Plain – A Case Study.” Annual of Medieval Studies at CEU 17 (2011): 41–60.

Vadas, András. Weather Anomalies and Climatic Change in Late Medieval Hungary: Weather Events in the 1310s in the Hungarian Kingdom. Saarbrücken: VDM Verlag Dr. Müller, 2010.

Valter, Ilona. Árpád-kori téglatemplomok Nyugat-Dunántúlon [Arpad-period Brick Churches in Western Transdanubia]. Budapest: METEM, 2004.

Vargha, Mária. Hoards, Grave Goods, Jewelry: Objects in Hoards and in Burial Contexts during the Mongol Invasion of Central-Eastern Europe. Oxford: Archaeopress, 2015.

Vásáry, István. Cumans and Tatars. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Wehli, Tünde. “A magyarországi művészet helyzete a tatárjárás körüli években” [Hungarian Art in the Period of the Mongol Invasion]. In Tatárjárás [The Mongol Invasion], edited by Balázs Nagy, 468–83. Budapest: Osiris, 2003.

Wolf, Mária. “Régészeti adatok a muhi csata történetéhez” [Archaeological Data for the History of the Battle at Muhi]. In “Carmen Miserabile:” A tatárjárás magyarországi emlékei; Tanulmányok Pálóczi Horváth András 70. születésnapja tiszteletére [“Carmen Miserabile:” Remnants of the Mongol Invasion of Hungary; András Horváth Pálóczi’s seventieth birthday memorial volume], edited by Szabolcs Rosta, and György V. Székely, 69–80. Kecskemét: Kecskeméti Katona József Múzeum, 2014.

1 For an overview of the scholarly debates on population losses, see: Berend, At the Gates, 36–37. As Berend points out, two schools of historiography emerged in the debate on the scale of destruction. On the basis of empty villages in charters, György Györffy suggested 50 percent of the population died in the invasion and its aftermath. Fügedi and others suggested the quick, dramatic recovery and economic prosperity contradicts such an image and Pál Engel felt a considerably lower estimate of around 15–20 percent of the population was more likely. See: Fügedi, “A tatárjárás demográfiai következményei,” 498–99.

2 Laszlovszky, “Material Remains,” 1–3; Laszlovszky, “Tatárjárás és régészet,” 455; Wolf, “Régészeti adatok.”

3 Sinor, “Horse and Pasture,” 181–83.

4 Büntgen and Di Cosmo, “Climatic and Environmental Aspects,” 1–9.

5 For instance, see the following online articles on the issue: Gearin, “Mongol Hordes Gave up on Conquering Europe Due to Wet Weather,” New Scientist, May 26, 2016; Kramer, “Scientists Finally Know What Stopped Mongol Hordes from conquering Europe,” Business Insider, May 27, 2016; Paul Rogers, “Why The Mongol Hordes Retreated from Europe,” Forbes, May 28, 2016.

6 Pinke et al., “Climate of Doubt,” 1–6; see also Büntgen and di Cosmo’s responses to the refutation: Büntgen and Di Cosmo, “Reply to,” 1–2.

7 Holzhauser et al., “Glacier and Lake-Level Variations,” 1107–17; Pinke et al., “Settlement Pattern as Indicators,” 212; Pinke et al., “Zonal Assessment,” 110.

8 Szűcs, Az utolsó Árpádok.

9 Laszlovszky, “‘Per tot discrimina rerum’.”

10 Kubinyi and Laszlovszky, “Demographic Issues,” 54.

11 F. Romhányi, “Gondolatok” (in print).

12 Kubinyi and Laszlovszky, “Demographic Issues,” 50–52.

13 Ibid., 53.

14 For the critical edition and translation, see: Bak and Rady, Master Roger’s Epistle.

15 Ibid., 168–69. Rogerius often remarked with horror that the Mongols “did not pardon sex or age” in their massacres, and he was not alone in this observation. As Johannes Gießauf notes, the Mongols may well have employed unprecedented cruelty as a tactic to demoralize their enemies and stifle resistance. Wholesale massacres of prisoners and the use of prisoners as essentially “arrow fodder” in attacks on enemy defenses were some of the ways that Mongols sought to disseminate a fearsome reputation. See: Gießauf, “A Programme of Terror and Cruelty,” 89–96.

16 Engel, The Realm, 100.

17 Boyle, Genghis Khan, 270–71. Juvaini writes that none of the Hungarian force escaped the Battle of Muhi and that Hungary was subjugated; Song, Yuan Shi, 2978. See also: Pow and Liao, “Subutai,” 37–76. This article on the famed general provides the first complete, annotated translation of both biographies of Subutai [Sübe’etei] in the Yuan Shi. These record that Hungary was defeated, and its city was conquered, before the Mongols withdrew.

18 Bak and Rady, Master Roger’s Epistle, 214–15.

19 Ibid., 218–19.

20 Ibid., 220–21.

21 Karbić et al., History of the Bishops, 302–3.

22 Rosenwein, Reading the Middle Ages, 419.

23 Laszlovszky et al., “Reconstructing the Battle of Muhi,” 29–38.

24 In discussing archaeological results, special emphasis should be on the Great Hungarian Plain, and for the important works on that, see: Rosta, “Pétermonostora pusztulása;” Gyucha and Rózsa, “‘Egyesek darabokra vágva’;” Tóth, “A tatárjárás korának pénzzel keltezett;” Wolf, “Régészeti adatok.” For how settlement patterns and spatial data can be used to shed light on the issues of destruction and recovery, see: Romhányi, “Kolostorhálózat;” and Romhányi, “Gondolatok,” (in print) on the papal tithe list; and Romhányi, “Changes of the Spatial Organisation,” for a discussion regarding the Carpathian Basin.

25 Gulyás, “Egy elpusztult tatárjáráskori ház,” 31, 52–53; Laszlovszky, “Material Remains,” 1–3.

26 Gulyás, “Egy elpusztult tatárjáráskori ház,” 43.

27 Laszlovszky et al., “Reconstructing the Battle of Muhi,” 33–34.

28 Wilhelm, “‘Akiket nem akartak karddal elpusztítani,’” 92, 93; Rosta, “Pétermonostora pusztulása,” 208.

29 Yet unpublished findings came to light in 2016 on excavations done by Szabolcs Rosta and Gábor Sz. Wilhelm (Katona József Múzeum, Kecskemét). Kind information of the researchers. On the topic of reports of cannibalism, see: Guzman, “Reports of Mongol Cannibalism;” Schmieder, “Menschenfresser.”

30 Tóth, “A tatárjárás korának pénzekkel keltezett,” 79–90.

31 Vargha, Hoards, 27–29.

32 Pusztai, “Buzogánnyal, tarsollyal és késtok-merevítővel,” 141.

33 Szilágyi and Serlegi, “Nád közé bújtak,” 127–40.

34 Hatházi, “A kunok régészeti.”

35 Nagy, Tatárjárás, 176.

36 Both documents often use rhetorical terms of total destruction but demonstrate in their details that the Mongols did not cross the Danube until relatively shortly before their withdrawal.

37 Bak and Rady, Master Roger’s Epistle, 210–13.

38 Recent results of the archaeological investigations were summarized by Szabolcs Rosta at the conference of young medieval archaeologists in 2017. Accessed October 6, 2018. https://mnm.hu/hu/esemenyek/fiatal-kozepkoros-regeszek-konferenciaja–2017.

39 Simon of Saint-Quentin, Histoire des Tartares, 43–44.

40 Thackston, Rashiduddin, 327. The term jerge or nerge was a term used in Mongolian of the imperial period for forming a row or column but implied the use of a hunting ring, or battue, as a strategy for hunting game. In the context of warfare, it meant an encircling movement. See: Allsen, The Royal Hunt, 26. For details on the military application of the nerge formation and the steppe tradition of hunting as military training, see: May, The Mongol Art of War, 46–47.

41 Selmeczi, “A 13. század második felének,” 319.

42 Wolf, “Régészeti adatok,” 22–26, specifically 23. Wolf recently contributed, along with many of the other scholars featured here, to a popular archaeology magazine with a heavily modified article related to her earlier work. That issue of the magazine reflects much of the latest research on the invasion.

43 Szilágyi and Serlegi, “Nád közé bújtak,” 135.

44 Valter, Árpád-kori téglatemplomok, 87–88.

45 Szabó, “The Extent and Management of Woodland,” 226.

46 About the situation in Transdanubia, shortly after the Mongols had crossed the Danube, we have three letters sent to the pope (not yet elected at that time). One of them was sent by prelates gathered in Székesfehérvár, while the others were written by Abbot Uros of Pannonhalma. See: Györffy, “Újabb adatok;” Thomas of Split compared the destructive but quick advance of the Mongols through Transdanubia to a summer hailstorm and noted that destruction was limited. See: Karbić et al., History of the Bishops, 290–91.

47 Szende, “Harc a Babenberg örökségért,” 290–94.

48 Kubinyi and Laszlovszky, “Demographic Issues,” 57; Szabó, “The Extent and Management of Woodland,” 226.

49 Rosenwein, Reading the Middle Ages, 421.

50 Göckenjan and Sweeney, Mongolensturm, 104–5. On the strategic problem of crossing rivers and the approaches employed by nomadic armies, see the most detailed study on this under-researched topic: Felföldi, “A nomád hadviselés,” 75–91.

51 Bak and Rady, Master Roger’s Epistle, 184–87.

52 Ibid., 180–81.

53 Ibid., 218–19.

54 Ibid., 214–15.

55 Rogerius mentioned briefly staying on this fortified island with other refugees from surrounding villages. See: Bak and Rady, Master Roger’s Epistle, 200–3.

56 Göckenjan and Sweeney, Mongolensturm, 293–95.

57 Karbić et al., History of the Bishops, 274–75. On the sacking of Pest, see: B. Szabó, “The Mongol Invasion.” Despite sensational descriptions of the destruction of the city and its population, the author notes that archaeology has not so far yielded evidence of these events.

58 Nagy, Tatárjárás, 180. Béla IV praised, for instance, the resistance of six castle officers of Trenčín for their successful repulsion of Mongol attackers in a charter dated to June 2, 1243.

59 Ibid., 193. Béla IV praised an official, Geregye Nembeli Pál, for hurrying across the Danube River to aid those on the other side soon after the Mongols departed.

60 Ibid., 185. In this particular letter, Béla IV praises three castle officers (iobagiones) for their successful resistance and saving many lives at a certain mountain fortress.

61 For an important selection of some of these letters and charters, see: Nagy, Tatárjárás, 180–96.

62 Kovács, Limoges-i zománcok.

63 Wehli, “A magyarországi művészet,” 478–79. Previous literature argued that the Limoges objects arrived in Hungary after the destruction inflicted by the Mongols and were used to replace the missing or lost liturgical objects. See especially the work of Éva Kovács. More recently this dating of the Limoges objects has been questioned and some in Hungary are dated before the Mongol invasion. See: Biczó and Kiss, “Limoges-i tál Bátmonostorról,” 75–76.

64 For a representative and important article on climate’s role in the Mongol Empire’s emergence, see: Putnam et al., “Little Ice Age Wetting.”

65 Büntgen and Di Cosmo, “Climatic and Environmental Aspects,” 1–9.

66 Sinor, “Horse and Pasture,” 171–83. Sinor’s view was that the Great Hungarian Plain simply could not support the number of horses and other livestock which the Mongols would need to occupy Hungary. His 1972 estimation, based on American horse-breeding statistics and the assumption that each Mongol soldier required an average of three horses, was that the Great Hungarian Plain could not support a Mongol force larger than 68,640 troops. Decades later, Sinor had revised his calculations, estimating that Hungary could support 83,027 Mongol occupiers. For a detailed comparison of his estimates, see: Pow, “Climatic and Environmental Limiting Factors.”

67 Karbić et al., History of the Bishops, 302–3.

68 Bak and Rady, Master Roger’s Epistle, 210–11.

69 Długosz, Ioannis Dlugossi Annales, vol. 4, 59.

70 Simon of Saint-Quentin, Histoire des Tartares, 44.

71 Civilian populations resorting to cannibalism in China are documented in the biographies of Subutai. See: Pow and Liao, “Subutai,” 62; The Hungarian population was also reduced to this, with Długosz noting that mothers ate their own children. See: Długosz, Ioannis Dlugossi Annales, vol. 4, 50. For the latest archaeological findings in Hungary that corroborate the accounts, see footnote 29.

72 Kiss et al., “Rossz termések;” Kiss, “Az 1507(–1508). évi ínség.” See also: Fara, “Crisi e carestia.”

73 Popa and Kern, “Long-Term Summer Temperature Reconstruction,” 1107–17.

74 Pinke et al., “Zonal Assessment,” 110.

75 Holzhauser et al., “Glacier and lake-level variations,” 792.

76 Bak and Rady, Master Roger’s Epistle, 201, 205, 222–25.

77 Kiss et al., “Rossz termések,” 27.

78 Ibid., 49.

79 For a comprehensive overview, see: Vadas, Weather Anomalies; Kiss, Floods and Long-Term Water-Level Changes.

80 Kiss, “Droughts and Low Water Levels,” 51–54. Losses of sheep, grain, and bees were particularly mentioned.

81 Pinke et al., “Zonal Assessment,” 109.

82 Knipl, A Duna-Tisza-közi Hátság, 91–93.

83 Mészáros and Serlegi, “The Impact of Environmental Change,” 205.

84 Pinke et al., “Zonal Assessment;” See also: Campbell, “Nature as Historical Protagonist.” Concerning the Great Hungarian Plain, see: Vadas, “Late Medieval Environmental Changes.”

85 Rogers, “Historians’ Explanations,” 9.

86 Ibid., 10–11.

87 Ibid., 12–14.

88 Ibid., 14–15.

89 For a longer analysis of all four theories and further criticisms, see: Pow “Deep Ditches,” 12–45.

90 May, “The Mongol Art of War and the Tsunami,” 35.

91 Pinke et al., “Climate of Doubt,” 3.

92 Karbić et al., History of the Bishops, 298–301.

93 Pow and Liao, “Subutai,” 66–67; Song, Yuan Shi, 2978.

94 Dawson, The Mongol Mission, 30.

95 Jackson, The Mongols and the West, 201–6.

96 Vásáry, Cumans and Tatars, 69–94.

97 Fügedi, Castle and Society, 52–53.

98 Ibid., 57–59.

99 Homza and Sroka, 148–53, 413–17, 450–55.

100 Nagy et al., “Medieval Buda in Context.”

101 Fischer, The Chronicle of Prussia, 180.

102 Jahn, Frankengeschichte, 53. Jahn opined that Rashid al-Din’s mention of his own contemporary in the Golden Horde, Noqai, having conquered Hungary, means that this is a reference to the major 1285 invasion. Noqai was the commander of Mongol forces in that abortive invasion.

103 No major studies exist in English, but two excellent studies on this episode exist in Hungarian. See: Székely, “Egy elfeledett rettegés;” Szőcs, “Egy második tatárjárás.”

104 Laszlovszky, “‘Per tot discrimina rerum’,” 50–51.

105 Kubinyi and Laszlovszky, “Demographic Issues,” 61–63.

106 Kiss et al., “Rossz termések;” Fara “Crisi e carestia.”

107 Laszlovszky, “Agriculture in Medieval Hungary,” 90.

108 Laszlovszky et al., The Economy of Medieval Hungary, 29–30. The editors here discuss the range of scholarly theories on the drivers behind Hungary’s late medieval recovery and prosperity.

109 This is based on recent archaeological work by Szabolcs Rosta which is underway. Kind information of the researcher.

* The research for this article has been carried out in the framework of the project “The Mongol Invasion of Hungary in its Eurasian Context” supported by the National Research, Development and Innovation Office (NKFIH, project no. K-128880).


Map 1. Distribution of hoards found in Hungary connected to the invasion
(Image courtesy of the Hungarian National Museum)

pdfVolume 7 Issue 3 CONTENTS

Landscape and Fortification of Vienna after the Ottoman Siege of 1529

Heike Krause and Christoph Sonnlechner

Wien Museum and Vienna City Archives

This contribution focuses on two issues: first, the land- and waterscape of Vienna in light of modernizations to its fortification; second, the challenges faced in fortifying the city during a period now known as the Little Ice Age. The Ottoman siege of Vienna in 1529 showed that new technology in warfare combined with certain topographic features represented a danger to the town. In reaction to the lasting Ottoman threat, Vienna was fortified with bastions, curtain walls, and a broad moat. The fortifications were surrounded by the glacis, which was cleared of buildings. The emperor’s military advisers and Italian fortress architects planned and created an artificial landscape oriented towards military needs. Rivers running through this area, such as the Wienfluss and the Ottakringer Bach, posed strategic problems and had to be dealt with. The Danube floodplain to the northeast of the city was an especially difficult environment to control. Solutions for the waterscape, but also for the hilly terrain in the west had to be found. The city’s Danube front was included in the fortifications. This construction took place during a severe phase of the Little Ice Age when heavy rainfall caused frequent inundation and ice jams. High water, unstable sediments, and the erosion of foundations forced planners and builders to find solutions adapted to this special environment. Highlighting these aspects of environment and war in sixteenth-century Vienna is the aim of the paper.

Keywords: Vienna, landscape, waterscape, fortification, bastionary system, early modern period, Ottoman wars, Little Ice Age, climate and history


Since the second half of the fifteenth century, the Ottomans had been pushing ever further westward. A decisive victory over the Hungarian King Ludwig II took place at Mohács in 1526. The siege of Vienna in 1529 and the continuing threat from the Ottomans led to a transformation of the immediate surroundings of the city into a fortress and to a rearrangement of the suburbs. The medieval city wall could no longer withstand the new military technology. From 1531 to about 1564, massive fortifications with bastions, connecting ramparts, and a broad moat were built around the inner city (Fig. 1). Large areas of the former suburbs were to be cleared for these buildings, but also for the glacis, the exposed field of fire in front of the moat. In addition, large quantities of building materials and raw materials had to be procured for the extensive construction project. These included timber, such as wooden piles for the foundations and brushwood for fascines, firewood and clay for the manufacture of bricks, and stone, sand, and lime. Stones came not only from the quarries in the vicinity, but also from the demolished houses and fortifications of the suburbs. Additionally, the earthen material excavated from the moat was used for the ramparts and bastions. All of these measures changed the landscape. They affected not only the immediate physical environment of Vienna, but also had an impact on more distant ecosystems. Another aspect was the awareness of geomorphological difficulties affecting the defense of the city. Thus, the hill in the west of Vienna opposite the Hofburg near St. Ulrich was perceived as a problem that demanded a defense solution. A great deal of discussions on defense were devoted to the waterscape of the city. The river bed of the Wienfluss/Wien River, flowing close to the city wall, offered protection to attackers and represented a strategic problem, which had to be considered. The Danube, with its barrier function, was the focal point of the defense concept. Tributary rivers flowing into the Danube, such as the Wienfluss, the Ottakringer, and the Alser Bach, which flowed into the moat, and the clay extraction in the western suburbs for brick production, had a landscape-altering effect. Moreover, the Danube river bank, with its fluctuations in water level and floods, caused difficulties for the construction of the fortress. The climate of the Little Ice Age, a period of cooling in the early modern period, also had an impact. When the fortress construction of the 1550s led to a shortage of resources and provoked enormous costs, testing the budget limit, the solutions and improvements to the fortifications ultimately could not be tackled in the long term, despite numerous proposals and projects.1


When studying fortification activity in the sixteenth century, it should not be forgotten that there is a larger context to the small area being researched. Vienna was founded in a landscape that was and still is—even if it is not visible anymore—shaped by water. It is a town beside a large river: the Danube. Vienna was not located directly on the main stream but on top of an older and higher Pleistocene river terrace. The border between the so-called Stadtterrasse and the recent, post-glacial alluvium of the Danube, formed up to 12,000 years ago, coincides with the fortifications of the Roman legionary camp Vindobona and approximately with the medieval city walls. The Ottakringer Bach, a small stream flowing in from the west, passed the Roman camp directly on its western side. The deep former riverbed is still reflected in today’s Tiefer Graben. The Danube’s main course passed the Roman camp on the northern side. Lying on a terrace above the river, the drop to the Danube was immediate. In the third or fourth century the river eroded the northwestern corner of the camp, which afterwards no longer formed a square. The Danube has played an important role in Vienna’s history, as did other water courses forming the Viennese waterscape. The upper reaches of the Danube must be taken into account, as must the centuries preceding the sixteenth century. Though Vienna is situated more than 900 kilometers downstream from the Danube’s source, the river still showed a mountainous character with a highly variable flow regime, frequent flooding, and almost annual ice jams.2

The local floodplain between the different arms of the Danube consisted of morphologically different dynamic zones, relevant to diverse activities and user groups. On the one hand, there were comparatively stable islands like the central parts of the Unterer Werd, an island close to town, and separated from it by the Viennese arm of the Danube, today called the Donaukanal. On the other hand, great parts of the river landscape were characterized by large, more or less dynamic islands. The development of the highly sinuous main arm in the sixteenth century had already started by the early to mid-fifteenth century.3 During the first siege by the Ottoman army in 1529, the evolution of the river bend was already at an advanced stage. First indications of a major rearrangement of the Danube channel network are provided by complaints in the 1550s, but there are also hints from the 1530s (Fig. 2).4

This shows that the Danube had already started to shift its course southwards within the gorge known as the Wiener Pforte, a short breakthrough section upstream from Vienna and Nußdorf (Fig. 1). From the mid-1560s onward, the main discharge of the river no longer flowed through the bend called the Taborarm, but instead found its way through the northern river arms, primarily through the Wolfarm.5

Apart from the Danube and its major changes of course in the third quarter of the sixteenth century, there are other smaller rivers, streams, and aspects of the terrain which were important for strategic considerations tied to fortification. Vienna is situated at the foothills of the eastern Alps formed by the hills of the Wienerwald. Several streams spring from these foothills to the west of the town and discharge into the Danube in the Vienna area, among them the Ottakringer Bach and the Alser Bach. Both streams flow to the direct vicinity of the center of town. One river in particular, flowing in from the west, attracted the interest of the fortification planners and engineers: the Wienfluss/Wien River. This river passes the town close to the walls on the southeastern side before discharging into the former Viennese branch of the Danube (today Donaukanal). Carved into the terrain, its river bed turned out to be a problem for the defense of the city. The same was true for the sloped terrain to the west of the walled town, with the monastery of St. Theobald sitting on top of the highest hill in the direct vicinity. We will return to morphology and strategic considerations later on.

Building the Fortress

The fifteenth century had brought drastic changes in the field of warfare. Cities were now bombarded by artillery in order to breach the walls. New military techniques required new tactics. The bastionary system developed in reaction to the new weapon, in Italy in particular. However, not only the necessary adjustments to fortress construction, but also the surroundings of the fortifications had to be considered. Open spaces were created, settlements demolished, and the area flattened to deny protection to the enemy. Rivers were diverted, or their barrier function was retained and strengthened.

The Establishment of a Military Landscape Surrounding Vienna—
the Construction of the Fortification

Earliest construction measures (1531–1539)

A transformation in the conduct of war and in military technology took place in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The increasing use of firearms and the development of large caliber artillery and mines, with which walls could be demolished, led to fundamental change in military architecture.7 Until the Ottoman siege of 1529 the fortifications of Vienna were medieval in character. The city wall had been strengthened against artillery fire by earthen embankments, but with its vertical towers it remained the most important part of the fortifications and the main target of attackers.

In August 1529, immediately before the siege, Ferdinand I of Habsburg, Archduke of Austria and King of Bohemia, Hungary, and Croatia, renewed his call to bring wood for the defense of Vienna as quickly as possible, in order to equip the city with fences, bastions, and bulwarks for cannon.8 The houses, churches, monasteries/nunneries, and hospitals of the suburbs were only evacuated, set alight or demolished when the Ottoman army was in their immediate vicinity. Wooden roofs in the town were dismantled in order to prevent fires spreading. Such measures were not enough, however. The strength of the attackers and their mining tactics meant that the city wall was no longer sufficient for defense. The city survived the attack only because the much more numerous enemy had supply problems and because of the very bad weather that autumn. The Ottoman retreat ruined the suburbs, and there were wide breaches in the city wall beside the Kärntnertor (Carinthian Gate), but above all the fear that it might not be possible to withstand a second attack remained. Ferdinand I and his advisors thus sought better defense solutions to combat fears about security. One year after the siege Ferdinand decided to develop the inner city as a fortress, excluding the suburbs, and to strengthen the city wall with Bollwerke (bulwarks).9 According to Ludwig Eberle, nine bulwarks were planned.10 In the first phase, several structures were to be placed against the outer side of the city wall, while in-between several elevated artillery platforms (cavaliers) would be raised inside the wall and the moat would be defended by flanking positions. The construction of the Bastei vor dem Burgtor (Bastion before the Castle Gate), the so-called Spanier (Spaniard), began at the beginning of March 1531. The demolition of walls from buildings of the medieval suburb during the excavation of the foundation trench led to higher costs than planned.11 The erection of the Bastei beim Schottentor (Bastion beside the Scottish Gate) followed soon afterwards. The new bastions jutted far out from the medieval city wall and thus extended into the former suburban area. People who lost their houses and ground in the suburbs were resettled. Those whose occupations needed running water were to be settled in the Scheffstraße area on the city side of the Wien River between the Stubentor (Stuben Gate) and the Danube. Their new houses and workshops were in future to be built not too close to the fortifications and only of wood, so that they could be removed easily in case of siege. An exposed field of fire was to be created in front of the moat (the glacis), so that the area was easily observable and offered no cover to the besieging enemy. The sources show that the ban on erecting buildings within 50 fathoms of the moat was repeatedly violated well into the 1570s.12 In October 1531, financial difficulties began and activity was on the verge of grinding to halt. The approaching winter cold was a further problem. The Viennese city council also faced high costs, caused by the demolition of (city) towers and the clearance of the moat at that time. It was making slow progress in the construction of the Bastei bei den Predigern (Preachers’ Bastion) because of a shortage of both personnel and money.13 The appearance and construction details of these bastions remain unknown, with one exception—the Bastei vor dem Burgtor. This is thought to be the first angular bastion in the German-speaking area. It survived into the seventeenth century14 and even after the new castle bastion was built to protect the Burgtor. The earliest structures of the new fortifications—called bastions, bulwarks, or “cats” (cavaliers)—appear to have been unstable and to have been rather provisional in nature. The sources imply that the activities were something of a damage limitation exercise and that a comprehensive masterplan, which took into account the strategic situation and included adequate solutions, resource management, and financing, was still absent.

The strengthening of the fortifications on the Wien River side of the city took place between 1536 and 1539.15 Work is mentioned in the sources at the Biberbastei,16 on an earthwork (Wasenbastei) beside Stubentor,17 at the earthwork known as the Heynersbastei, and at a further small earthwork that lay between these last two18 and which appears to have been a predecessor of the later Untere Paradeisbastei (Lower Paradise Bastion).19 The use of the word Wasen (= Rasen = turf) indicates that the structures largely consisted of earth with a covering of turf. Nevertheless, stone from the abandoned suburban defenses and buildings was also salvaged and reused in the new fortifications.20 In 1539 a ship—a so-called Siebnerin21—was bought for the purpose of sinking it in the Danube somewhere between two city towers, the Salzturm (Salt Tower) and the Rotenturm (Red Tower).22 It was probably intended to help strengthen the river bank or as the foundation of a built structure. Between 1540 and 1543 there are no sources which tell us about any significant progress in the construction of the fortifications. Intensive enlargement work took place later after the appointment of Italian fortification specialists. Bastions were then built which were so strong and large that they remained in use into the nineteenth century.

The construction of five large bastions and the broadening of the moat (1544–1555)

This phase saw the planned extension of the bastion system in the Italian manner and is characterized by a new type of bastion: the bastions are clad in masonry, larger and stronger, and include open flankers (recessed artillery emplacements) for the better protection of the moat area. Between 1544 and 1555 five such bastions were erected, which flanked each other on the landward side of the town. The bastion between the Burgtor and the Schottentor (later known as the Löblbastion) was built between 1544 and 1548. In response to the hill beside St. Ulrich in front of the fortifications, thought to be a potential problem in the case of siege, the bastion was equipped with a particularly high artillery platform (cavalier). A crack in the masonry opened up at an early stage and necessitated repairs.23 Similar problems developed at the bastion beside the Schottentor. The subsoil had not been sufficiently strengthened to support the large, heavy walls. At almost the same time another new bastion was being erected on the other side of the city beside the Stubentor in place of the earlier Bastei bei den Predigern. It is also referred to as the Town, Burghers’, Hollerstauden, or Dominican bastion. The Italian fortifications engineer Dominico Illalio (Domenico dell’Allio, born c. 1515, died 1563) designed the bastion in 1544 and marked out its outline on site.24 A cavalier behind the bastion was begun in 1545, which was raised up with earth from the city moat.25 The stone bastion with recessed, open flankers, and including the cavalier, which appears to have been finished in 1546,26 seems to have been something of a prototype for further bastions.

Nevertheless, the system of bastions in the Italian manner remained unfinished and in some places the fortifications would not have been secure if a new siege had taken place.27 Finances were insufficient, leading to a delay in the completion of the section between Stubentor and the Biberbastei.28 The new bastions extended far out into the approaches of the medieval city wall and thus occupied very much space, so much that the surrounding moat had to be broadened with a great deal of effort.29 The material thus extracted was piled up to create the body of the bastions.

Francesco de Pozo was the responsible master builder for the Bastei beim Kärntnertor (Bastion beside the Carinthian Gate), which was erected 1548–1552. The excess earthen material from the foundation trenches was to be brought out of the city to the gardens and cemeteries and spread out there, while buildings on the construction site were to be demolished.30 Subsidence in the area of the casemates of the bastion led to instability. Again, it would appear that the foundations and/or the subsoil below could not carry the weight demanded.

The so-called Obere Paradeisbastei (Upper Paradise Bastion)31 stood on the other side of the Kärntnertor on the Wien River. This was Vienna’s largest bastion. It was erected in this phase in place of the earlier Heynersbastei. The structure appears to have been built very quickly and to have been finished by 1551.32 It took its later name Wasserkunstbastei (Waterworks Bastion) from a pumping station on top of the bastion that pumped water from the millstream into the city.33 In this case the new fortifications served the needs not only of defense, but also of supply.

The Kleine Wasenbastei, which was built on the Wien River side of the city apparently in the place of the Untere Paradeisbastei, and which was also called Jakoberbastei (Jacobean Bastion) and later Braunbastei, was completed in 1555.34

Great numbers of bricks were needed for these projects, necessitating the construction of new brickworks in 1547.35 Brick production relied on large amounts of firewood, which were to be brought in from the floodplain along the Danube.36 In 1549 bricks from a total of ten kilns were available for the buildings alongside sufficient lime, sand, and stone.37

Most clay was extracted to the west of the city on a hillside called Laimgrube (Clay Pit) on the northern side of the Wien River. A view by Hans Sebald Lautensack, dated 1558/59, shows the drying sheds and the cut edge created by clay extraction (Fig. 3). In 1548, further north from the Laimgrube, the Ottakringer Bach—referred to as “a little stream from St. Ulrich”—flowed to the stone bridge at Kärntnertor. Flooding created at that point an undesirable, elevated Gstätten, by which is presumably meant a deposit of sediment and other material carried by the stream. In order to prevent the enemy entrenching themselves behind the cover that this deposit provided, it was to be removed and the water diverted into the city moat, as had previously been the case and from which point it could flow into the Danube.38 These measures led to landscape changes in front of the city. The substantial, protruding fortifications also meant that houses, gardens, and outbuildings in the vicinity, both within and without the city, were adversely affected and sometimes had to be removed.39

The plans by Bonifaz Wolmuet and Augustin Hirschvogel, from 1547 and 1549, respectively, reflect developments towards an overall concept for the fortifications (Fig. 4). They show both those bastions that already existed, and also those which were still in the planning phase. Initially, the course of the medieval city wall was maintained and the bastions were built against the wall. This was still a long way off from an ideal fortification, i.e., a regular, polygonal plan. The terrain, climate problems, the urban landscape, and fear of the likely high costs delayed or prevented the realization of more ambitious plans. The new bastions in this phase served to protect the city gates on the landward side. The integration of the Danube riverbank into the new fortifications and the necessary changes involved were to take place in the coming years.



Fortification of the Danube riverbank and erection of the curtain walls (1557–1563)

The last construction phase under Ferdinand I was marked by acute financial problems, but at the same time by professional planning and attempts to build long-lasting structures appropriate to “modern” military technology. The superintendent of works, Hermes Schallautzer, and following his death in 1561, Thoman Eiseler, as the highest-ranking engineer, were responsible for the construction work between 1557 and 1563. Concepts, estimates, reports, bills, and sketches have survived from this period. The section of the fortifications from Schottentor along the Danube to the Biberbastei was now to include “modern” bastions and an arsenal. The moat was widened in many places. From 1560 onwards curtain walls were built in front of, sometimes substantially before, the medieval city wall. They were broad ramparts clad in masonry, which connected the bastions. Masonry-clad curtain walls were not erected everywhere, however. Some stretches of the medieval city wall remained intact. New buildings, such as armories, foundries, an arsenal, and a storehouse, were designed directly behind the curtain walls, which served the supply and accommodation needs of the military, but also the storage and repair of military equipment. Work began on the later so-called Lower or Imperial Armory c. 1558.40 This stood in the area east of the street Seilerstätte on the medieval city wall, which at this point followed the undercut former bank of the Wien River, which swung inwards toward the town in a great bow.41 The new curtain wall between the Untere and Obere Paradeisbastei was built in a straight line well to the east of the old wall so that the area of the bow was absorbed into the fortifications. The bastion beside the Schottentor, which was still not in a satisfactory condition, was to be renewed. Two high cavaliers were being built behind it.42 Buildings had to be demolished as part of the preparation of the building sites for the Elendbastei and the Donaubastei (Danube Bastion, also called the Neutorbastei) and for the arsenal between them.43 The arsenal was to be erected outside the medieval city wall beneath the escarpment of the Danube,44 connected by a canal to the river and to house shipyards, workshops, and a small fleet.45A new storehouse was to be erected on the site of newly demolished buildings to the south of the arsenal, close to the Salzburger Hof.46 By 1561 building work on the two bastions and on the arsenal appears to have been largely completed.47 An undated perspective sketch, which was copied by Albert Camesina in 1879, but is now lost, shows the progress of the building work on the house for the officers and the commander of the arsenal and also on a neighbouring wall, including the former area of those houses which had been demolished to make room for the fortifications.48 The transformation of the Danube front began towards the end of this phase. A piattaforma (platform, Fig. 5) and a new bastion, on the site of the older Biberbastei, were to be built, although unstable subsoil, a high water table, and unfavorable weather made the implementation of the projects very difficult. Another negative factor was the precarious financial situation, which deteriorated from 1561 onwards and led to the possibility that work on the fortifications and on other imperial buildings in and around Vienna would not be able to continue at a reasonable pace.49 The reason for the financial crisis was the enormous costs, which the fortifications against the Ottomans, particularly in Hungary and Croatia involved.50 In Vienna work came to a temporary halt more or less at the time of the death of Emperor Ferdinand I in 1564. In the following decades we know of suggested improvements by fortifications specialists such as Bartholomeo de Rocchi, Carlo Theti, and Daniel Specklin, but these were not realized.51 Only in the seventeenth century, in particular under Leopold I (1640–1705), did a further enlargement of the fortifications take place through the addition of ravelins, a covered way, and places-of-arms on the counterscarp. Later still, in the eighteenth century, a system of countermines below the glacis was among the measures taken.52

Climate and seasonal construction works

As far as we can tell from the sources and from literature, the timespan between 1547/48 and 1572 in particular brought years of heavy flooding and regular ice jams, both of which caused severe damage. The years from 1565 to 1571 seem to have been the worst in this respect.53 This period corresponds with the Grindelwald Fluctuation, the first extreme phase of the Little Ice Age lasting from the 1560s to the 1620s.54

Assessing the influence of climate change on the changes and dynamics of the Viennese Danube in the sixteenth century is difficult, but embedding the findings into the larger frame of a central European climate history helps interpret the dramatic changes taking place in the riverscape during those years. The ice jam flood in 1565 and several severe winter and summer floods in 1566 can be seen as the turning point in the hydromorphological history of the Viennese Danube. At that time, the river definitively relocated its main current to the northern Wolfarm. Both sudden erosion processes and gradual channel shifting contributed to the overall instability of the Viennese floodplain and caused numerous disputes concerning land properties and problems with transport routes and infrastructure in the riverscape.

Weather and climate (change) were of great significance for the construction of the fortifications on the Danube front. As early as 1531 the Imperial Military Council emphasized that fortification work would go ahead despite the cold and temperatures below freezing point, thus revealing one of the problems facing the construction work: the rigors of the weather.55 In 1537 and again in 1546 the mayor and the city council complained to Ferdinand I that the Danube bridges were damaged or had been torn away by the heavy rain and ice flooding.56 The staff available for repairs was overworked. Apparently the flood had also damaged parts of the fortifications at the Salztor (Salt Gate) and Rotenturmtor (Red Tower Gate) near the Danube.57

The fortification works were obstructed in 1549 by a high water table, which rose steadily in heavy rains. In a desperate step, the builder planked the entire surface of the building and tried to expel all the water. The cost of this measure was considered too high.58

A letter dated December 20, 1561 from Thoman Eiseler to the Emperor gives us a glimpse of the seasonality of construction activity, which was only able to progress when the Danube’s water level was low, as was normally the case in winter. Eiseler expressed his hope that the water would remain low for two months, which would allow him to complete the work. The Danube and its variability had to be considered in planning and determined the seasonal course of work.59 It soon became clear that this hope had been in vain. On St. Thomas’s Day, December 21, the water began to rise. On January 5, the groundwater level had dropped again, so that Eiseler tried to resume work on the Piattaforma. But on the night of the 10th of January and again on almost the entirety of the following day it again rained very heavily. Eiseler knew about the connection between rain in the upper reaches of the Danube and the swelling of the river and feared that it might have rained a lot in the catchment area of the Danube, provoking a renewed expansion of the river. In the spring of 1562 Eiseler urged the emperor to settle the outstanding claims of all contractors so that the workers would be able to take advantage of a potential low water period and proceed with the fortifications.60 On May 26, he mentions in a letter to Maximilian II three times klaihn wasser, i.e., a low water table, as the framework for a reasonable deployment of personnel. A low groundwater level was obviously a prerequisite for good construction progress.61

The management of natural dynamics was carried out with appropriate precautionary measures. Construction had to be based on the water and not on the favorable season from the workers’ point of view. They had to work in extreme summer heat and in icy winter cold, just as the river allowed.

Strategic challenges to the fortification work caused by topography

Fortifying the city was challenged by environmental prerequisites. As already mentioned, the hilly terrain to the west of the city and also the waterscape caused problems. Clearing the area immediately in front the fortifications from buildings and settlements was one thing. Coping with the terrain was another. The hill close to St. Ulrich in particular, where the monastery of St. Theobald was located (today in the 6th district of Vienna), formed a perfect location for the firing of artillery at the town. This can be found in considerations of the authorities.62 The well-known fortification architect and engineer Carlo Theti (1529–1589) dealt with this subject. He seems to have offered the emperor and his military council a solution to the strategic problem. Two plan sketches by Carlo Theti were recently published.63 The first includes the design of a citadel in exactly the place described, west of the city near St. Ulrich, and also an additional fortress wall protecting the Imperial castle. The second reflects the state of the Vienna fortifications. These sketches accompanied Theti’s elaborating manuscript from 1576, “Discorsi vari in materia di fortificazione per Vienna, con disegni,” which has survived in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan64 (Fig. 6). The citadel was never built.


The second major strategic problem was the Wien River/Wienfluss. The river itself flowed in from the west in a wide gravel bed, in some areas with several branches, and passed the walls southwest of the city. It took a winding route, especially with the bend called Ochsengries. From 1529 the Wien River was a frequent topic in the discussions of the military about the defense of the city.65 Particularly noteworthy are the statements of the military councilors during the deliberations on the fortifications along the Hungarian, Italian, and Croatian borders in August and September 1576, which were presented to the emperor and his councilors from October to December 1576.66 The military discussed the problem of the half-filled urban moat, which was not a proper barrier, and the broad river basin of the Wien River, which offered the enemy an opportunity to find shelter when attacking the town. A look at the two Angielini plans handed down in Karlsruhe and Dresden also shows the quite steep edge of the terrain, in particular from the Ochsengries in the south—that section of the Wienfluss where its course turns 90 degrees to the north—to the area of the Stubentor in the north.67 A particular problem for the military were the settlements in the area between the Wienfluss and the moat and city wall. In particular, the millstream with its mills and stone weirs, which feature prominently in the Karlsruhe and Dresden “Angielini” plans, were to be removed and the technical installations destroyed. The entire area should be levelled as far as possible. Even the deviation of the Wien River into the town for cleaning purposes was considered.68

A third major obstacle for the fortification works were the waters of the Danube. As described earlier, the water level varied. The climatic extremes of the Little Ice Age made the work even more complicated. The foundations were the most difficult problem. In 1559 trees in the woods belonging to the Scottish Abbey were to be felled to create construction piles for the foundations of a building planned between the Biberbastei and the Donaubastei.69 Whether this is a reference to the preparation of the ground for the construction of a curtain wall and/or for the so-called Piattaforma is not clear. A dispute among Imperial engineers about the composition of parts of the Piattaforma, which was built directly on the bank of the Vienna arm of the river, shows how systematically the appropriate construction methods were discussed. The construction of the masonry part of the Piattaforma, which following the opinion of master builder Francesco Theobaldi (died 1569) was to be built without Orillons (ear-shaped plan), was underway in 1561.70 A drawing copied by Albert Camesina reveals the progress of the construction, including of what the mathematician and cartographer Tilemann Stella (1525–1589) called “corners” on the wall,71 protruding parts which served as cutwaters (starlings) (Fig. 5). The high water table and problems to do with the foundations meant that water had to be constantly bailed out and also that wood for ever more and longer wooden piles had to be felled. The piles beneath the curtain walls elsewhere could be driven in much deeper than was possible around the Rotenturmtor, where they had to tipped with iron. Wooden piles with iron tips were discovered during the construction of an underground car park at Morzinplatz, the former site of the Piattaforma, in 1972 (Fig. 7). The last datable tree ring from such a pile was dated to 1554, proving that the object did indeed originate in the period of construction mentioned in the sources. 72 We do not know when exactly the Piattaforma was completed, but by 1563 it was sufficiently finished to begin the construction of the flanking positions.73 The structure was later replaced by the Great Gonzagabastei, completed in 1664.74 The square platform known as the Biberbastei, which was built against the eastern corner of the city wall at the confluence of the Wien River with the Danube, was replaced by a large new structure with casemates and recessed flankers between 1561 and 1563. Work on the foundations ran into difficulties because of the high water levels in the immediate vicinity of the Danube then as well.75 The site had to be bailed out constantly. The area around the Biberbastei was incorporated into the moat, while the river front was not equipped with such a ditch.

Surveying the Waterscape in Order to Resettle the Suburbs

In June 1569 we read of a military project to relocate the suburbs to the Unterer Werd. On 4 June of that year, the court military councilor Franz von Poppendorf wrote to tell the emperor that there was a great deal of “disorder” in the suburbs. The suburbs and gardens posed a danger. The inhabitants would have to be removed, but they should be offered replacement land on the island called Unterer Werd between Schlagbruecke and Alter Tabor. Areas had already been marked out. The inhabitants of the suburbs could be relocated within a two-year period.76

In December 1577 the emperor commissioned Poppendorf to make a draft plan. Poppendorf inspected the Tabor with the fortress architect and engineer Ottavio Baldigara. Baldigara sketched the situation and surveyed the “island” in the Danube.77 His conclusion was that part of the island would have to be raised to keep it dry and habitable. Any potential settlers who were concerned about the situation should look to the recently built house of Wolff Fischer as a model for all future houses. Fischer had built up the ground so high that the water was not a danger.

The emperor obviously had doubts about the safety of the new urban settlement between Schlag- and Taborbrücke. In particular, the emperor asked whether the “new town”78 would not in fact serve the enemy, and thus be harmful to the city. Poppendorf outlined strategic considerations for the defense of cities and the specific problems of the case of Vienna: the main point of a fortress was that all places around it were cleared and that the enemy was thus deprived of the benefits of settled areas. He can therefore not approach the fortress and is not able to entrench his army or artillery. The enemy must, as far as possible, be stopped outside the city, fought and decimated. Another advantage of stopping him in front of the city was that it would then be possible to observe where he planned to attack the fortification. One must hold off the enemy for as long as possible, so that he would begin to run out of provisions and be forced into a war of attrition. Some drawbacks cannot be averted, he wrote, but the suburbs and gardens, which are detrimental to fortification, should be removed, trenches and cellars filled in, and a flat space established around the city. The suburbs were to be relocated to the island—the Unterer Werd.79 The disadvantages of such a new town would not be comparable to those of the previous condition; there was no advantage for the enemy. Even if the island were not fortified, the enemy would have no advantage over the current situation. If the old city were lost, the new one could decide whether to defend itself or to withdraw the inhabitants across the Danube and destroy the bridges behind it.

The populated and fortified island also had the advantage that the enemy would have to split up his camp, with one part south and one part north of the Danube. He would have to divide his Janissaries—that is, the Ottoman elite troops, of which there were generally about 10,000— because he would be forced to attack two cities at once. He could only build his camp in the floodplains on flood-prone terrain, which would be to his disadvantage. In addition, he could not use cavalry in those areas, as they were swampy and crisscrossed by ditches.80 The planned relocation of the suburban population into a fortified new town would, according to the military council, be the only sensible solution to the problems.81 Nevertheless, this fortress was not realized in the way the military councilors had proposed.

The waters, especially the Danube as a barrier on the one hand, and the populated and unpopulated Danube floodplains on the other, played a significant role in the deliberations of the military council.


The Ottoman siege of 1529 changed the perception of the town. Its inhabitants had painfully experienced the opportunities inherent in new military technology and control of the Danube. The Viennese were lucky to have beaten back the aggressors. As a consequence a new type of fortification was built: the Italian bastion system. Building materials like wood, clay, or stone were taken from the surroundings of the city leading to further changes in the landscape. The immediate vicinity of the walls was totally cleared of settlement. Planners and engineers presented concepts dealing with fortifying floodplain areas and heights overlooking the city after having studied the strategic risks inherent in the land- and waterscape. The process of building the fortifications, which lasted for the entirety of the sixteenth century and beyond, was impeded by the terrain, especially on the side of the city exposed to the Danube. Structures were eroded and seasonal variation of water levels caused problems. The movement of the Danube away from the town in combination with heavy flooding in the years of the Little Ice Age was clearly observed by the engineers. Several measures were taken to convert the Viennese environment into a military landscape, including the strategic use of natural terrain.


Archival sources

Alte Feldakten [AFA]

Österreichisches Staatsarchiv, Finanz- und Hofkammerarchiv [FHKA]

Wiener Hofkriegsrat (Kriegsarchiv, Zentralstelle, Hauptreihe, Bücher) [HKR]

Österreichisches Staatsarchiv, Kriegsarchiv [KA]

Österreichisches Staatsarchiv, Finanz- und Hofkammerarchiv, Alte Hofkammer, Hoffinanz, Niederösterreichische Herrschaftsakten [NÖHA]

Österreichisches Staatsarchiv, Finanz- und Hofkammerarchiv, Alte Hofkammer, Hoffinanz, Niederösterreichische Kammer [NÖK]

Niederösterreichisches Landesarchiv [NÖLA]

Oberkammeramt, B1/1. Reihe, Oberkammeramtsrechnungen [OKAR]

Österreichisches Staatsarchiv, Finanz- und Hofkammerarchiv, Alte Hofkammer, Hoffinanz, Vizedomamtshauptrechnungen [VDA]

Wiener Stadt- und Landesarchiv [WStLA]


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Mader, Ingrid, ed. Die Residenzstadt Wien an der Donau: Die Geschichte der Stadtbefestigung am Beispiel der Neutorbastion. Festungsforschung 10. Regensburg: Schnell & Steiner, 2018.

Mollo, Giuseppe. “Carlo Theti: i ‘Discorsi delle fortificationi´di un ingegnere militare del XVI secolo.” In Storie e teorie dell’architettura dal Quattrocento al Novecento, edited by Alfredo Buccaro, Gaetana Cantone, and Francesco Starace. Quaderni di storia dell’Architettura 1. 83–132 Pisa: Pacini Editore, 2008.

Opll, Ferdinand. Alte Grenzen im Wiener Raum. Kommentare zum Historischen Atlas von Wien 4. Vienna, Munich: Jugend und Volk, 1986.

Opll, Ferdinand, Heike Krause, and Christoph Sonnlechner. Wien als Festungsstadt im 16. Jahrhundert: Zum kartografischen Werk der Mailänder Familie Angielini. Vienna, Cologne, Weimar: Böhlau, 2017.

Pálffy, Géza. “Der Preis für die Verteidigung der Habsburgermonarchie: Die Kosten der Türkenabwehr in der zweiten Hälfte des 16. Jahrhunderts.” In Finanzen und Herrschaft: Materielle Grundlagen fürstlicher Politik in den habsburgischen Ländern und im Heiligen Römischen Reich im 16. Jahrhundert, edited by Friedrich Edelmayer, Maximilian Lanzinner and Peter Rauscher, 20–44. Veröffentlichungen des Instituts für Österreichische Geschichtsforschung 38. Vienna, Munich: Oldenbourg, 2003.

Perger, Richard. Straßen, Türme und Basteien Das Straßennetz der Wiener City in seiner Entwicklung und seinen Namen: Ein Handbuch. Forschungen und Beiträge zur Wiener Stadtgeschichte 22. Vienna: Franz Deuticke, 1991.

Pfister, Christian. “Climatic Extremes, Recurrent Crises and Witch Hunts: Strategies of European Societies in Coping with Exogenous Shocks in the Late Sixteenth and Early Seventeenth Centuries.” The Medieval History Journal 10, no. 1–2 (2007): 1–41.

Pfister, Christian. “The Little Ice Age: Thermal and Wetness Indices for Central Europe.” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 10, no. 4 (1980): 665–96.

Pfister, Christian. Wetternachhersage: 500 Jahre Klimavariationen und Naturkatastrophen (1496–1995). Bern: Haupt Verlag, 1999.

Reichhalter, Gerhard. “Von der Ringmauer zum Festungswall.” In Von der mittelalterlichen Stadtmauer zur neuzeitlichen Festung Wiens: Historisch-archäologische Auswertung der Grabungen in Wien 1, Wipplingerstraße 33–35, edited by Sylvia Sakl-Oberthaler et al., 149–53. Vienna: Phoibos-Verlag, 2016.

Sakl-Oberthaler, Sylvia et al., Von der mittelalterlichen Stadtmauer zur neuzeitlichen Festung Wiens: Historisch-archäologische Auswertung der Grabungen in Wien 1, Wipplingerstraße 33–35. Monografien der Stadtarchäologie Wien Bd. 9. Vienna: Phoibos-Verlag, 2016.

Sonnlechner, Christoph, Severin Hohensinner, and Gertrud Haidvogl. “Floods, Fights and a Fluid river: The Viennese Danube in the Sixteenth Century.” Water History 5, no. 2 (2013): 173–94.

Veltzé, Alois. “Das Kriegswesen.” In Geschichte der Stadt Wien, vol. 4, 159–217. Vienna: Verlag des Alterthumvereines zu Wien, 1909.

1 For the detailed story of the Viennese fortress in the 16th century, see Opll et al., Wien als Festungsstadt.

2 Liepolt, Limnologie. For detailed information on river morphology, see Hohensinner et al., “Changes in Water,” 147.

3 WStLA, Hauptarchiv-Urkunden, Nr. 3631.

4 NÖHA W 61/C/87/A (875), fol. 2–59; see also the Hohenauer Steig at the Kahlenberg: NÖHA W 61/C/B7/B (876), fol. 423–604; NÖHA W 61/C/7/A (823), fol.; NÖHA W 61/C/3/A (818), January 22, 1537, fol. 229r.

5 NÖHA W 61/C/7/A (823), fol. 20r/v.; Sonnlechner et al., “Floods,” 175–77.

6 The basis of the following are two publications by the authors: Krause, “Erste Türkenbelagerung von Wien,” Krause and Sonnlechner, “Wien wird Festungsstadt.”

7 Burger, Landesfestungen der Hohenzollern, 14–18; Reichhalter, “Von der Ringmauer zum Festungswall,” 149–53.

8 FHKA Gedenkbuch 33, fol. 42v.

9 NÖLA Ständische Akten A VIII 9, September 8, 1530, fol. 10r–11v.

10 Eberle, “Wien als Festung,” 220.

11 NÖHA W 61/C/3/A, March 10, 1531, fol. 93r–95v; Camesina, Urkundliche Beiträge, no. II, 51 f.

12 Camesina, Urkundliche Beiträge, no. V, 55; KA HKR, 1558 February; Expedit 119, fol. 303r; other examples in Eberle, “Wien als Festung,” 261 f.

13 NÖHA W 61/C/3/A, October 9, 1531, fol. 90r–91v; Camesina, Urkundliche Beiträge, no. VI, 56.

14 Jeitler, “Schriftquellen,” 47; Jeitler, “Burgbastei,” 176–83.

15 For this phase, see also Eberle, “Wien als Festung,” 221.

16 WStLA, OKAR 1536, Ausgaben, fol. 18v, 1537/38, Ausgaben fol. 15r, fol. 17v, 18r/v, fol. 19r.

17 E.g. WStLA, OKAR 1536, Ausgaben fol. 17v–18r.

18 WStLA, OKAR, Ausgaben 1538, fol. 20r und 25v; WStLA, OKAR, Ausgaben 1539, fol. 24v–25v, 29r/v and 31v.

19 Perger, Straßen, 27 s. v. Braunbastei. Thus called from 1684 onwards (Camesina, Urkundliche Beiträge, no. XXXVI, 91).

20 WStLA, OKAR, Ausgaben 1536–1539, passim; for the medieval suburban defences, see: Opll, Alte Grenzen, 43–56.

21 Typical transport ship on the Danube, used for among other things to carry salt.

22 WStLA, OKAR, Ausgaben 1539, fol. 22r.

23 Jeitler, “Schriftquellen,” 51.

24 WStLA, OKAR 1544: Ausgaben, fol. 16r und 18r.

25 WStLA, OKAR 1545: Empfang, fol. 16r und 17r.

26 Camesina, Urkundliche Beiträge, no. X 59 f.

27 Eberle, “Wien als Festung,” 223.

28 Camesina, Urkundliche Beiträge, no. XII.

29 FHKA VDA 580, 1545, fol. 258r–272v. For the moat, see also Krause, “Stadtgraben,” 36f.

30 NÖHA W 61/3/A, January 13, 1548, [Abschrift], 331r-v; Camesina, Urkundliche Beiträge, no. XIII, 64f.

31 Perger, Straßen, 153 s.v. Wasserkunstbastei.

32 Camesina, Urkundliche Beiträge, no. XVII, 69 f.

33 Eberle, “Wien als Festung,” 234.

34 Eberle, “Wien als Festung,” 223 und 233. For these terms, see Perger, Straßen, 27, s.v. Braunbastei.

35 FHKA NÖK ER 1547-2, fol. 256v. FHKA NÖK ER 1549-1, fol. 207r: In 1549 the abbot of the Scottish (Benedictine) Abbey complained that the extension of the brickworks had led to the loss of a great deal of land subject to the monastery.

36 FHKA NÖK ER 1548-1, fol. 37r.

37 NÖHA W 61/C/3/A, 1549 June 9, fol. 363v–364r.

38 Camesina, Urkundliche Beiträge, no. XIII, 65.

39 Complaints from people affected, claiming compensation, have survived: NÖHA W 61/C/3/B (819), 1550, fol. 367r–389v; April 27, 1551, fol. 428r/v.

40 KA HKR Registratur 634, 1558, September, fol. 1r. From c. 1572 onwards the two armouries were referred to as the “Lower” (between the two Paradeisbasteien, on the street Seilerstätte) or “Upper” (in the Salzburger Hof complex in the Renngasse) armouries (NÖHA W 61/C/90/B, 1572, fol. 853–857; FHKA Hoffinanzprotokolle E 1576 [W 321/W 322], fol. 157v; KA HKR Protokollbuch 162, 1576, fol. 218r; KA HKR Protokollbuch 158, 1574, fol. 178v); Perger, Straßen, 132 s. v. Seilerstätte.

41 Krause, “Stadtgraben,” 33 and fig. 2.

42 KA HKR Registratur 634, September 1558, 1r.

43 NÖHA W 61/C/3/B, July 8, 1558, fol. 529r.

44 KA HKR Akten 2, Expedit 109, 1558, August, without folio.

45 Jeitler, “Historische Quellen zur Elendbastion,” 216.

46 KA HKR Akten 3, Registratur 634, fol. 1v.; NÖHA W 61/C/90/A fol. 233 (copy of the 19th century) and fol. 396r/v (1547 September 8). See also Veltzé, “Kriegswesen,” 208–11. A new Imperial Armoury was built in the Renngasse on the site of the Salzburger Hof 1568/1569: FHKA Hoffinanzprotokolle E 1569 (W 282/W283/W284), fol. 24r und 290v; FHKA Hoffinanzprotokolle E 1568 (W 277/W278/W279), fol. 407r; KA HKR Protokollbuch 150, Registratur, 1569, fol. 147v; NÖHA W 61/C/90/B, 1568 August 11, fol. 825–28.

47 In recent years the Stadtarchäologie Wien has had the opportunity of uncovering and recording the remains of bastions and curtain walls, which were demolished from 1858 onwards, in several places. Excavations at the Elendbastei and the Neutorbastei led to new results concerning the type of construction and the building materials used, and have been published in two monographs: Sylvia Sakl-Oberthaler et al., Von der mittelalterlichen Stadtmauer; Mader, Die Residenzstadt Wien an der Donau.

48 WStLA, Kartographische Sammlung, Allgemeine Reihe, Pläne und Karten: Sammelbestand, P1.220/1.

49 KA HKR Protokollbuch 142, 1562, fol. 81v; fol. 82r; 1563 fol. 130v, 135v.

50 Pálffy, “Preis für die Verteidigung,” 20–44, esp. 42 f.

51 Opll, Krause and Sonnlechner, Wien als Festungsstadt, 489 no. 19, no. 21. Württembergische Landesbibliothek Stuttgart, Handschriften, Cod. math. 4: Daniel Specklin, Codex Mathematicus (ca. 1575); Accessed April 17, 2018. http://www.deutschefotothek.de/gallery/freitext/Codex+mathematicus or http://digital.wlb-stuttgart.de/sammlungen/sammlungsliste/werksansicht/?no_cache=1&tx_dlf[id]=4364&tx_dlf[page]=1

52 Eberle, “Wien als Festung,” 223 f; As Terminus ante quem: FHKA Hoffinanz Österreich Fasz. 638; 1702 Juni 1 [Konzept], without folio, with reference to damaged countermines.

53 See foremost NÖHA N 27/B/1-3 (460–62); W 61/C/7/A and B (823, 824); W 61/C/87/A and B (875, 876); also WStLA, Bürgerspital, Spitalmeisterrechnungen, Jg. 1548–1572.

54 Pfister, “Little Ice Age;” Pfister, Wetternachhersage; Pfister, “Climatic Extremes;” Glaser, Klimageschichte; Hohensinner et al., “Changes in water and land,” 148–53.

55 Camesina, Urkundliche Beiträge, 57 no. VII.

56 NÖHA W 61/C/3/A (818), January 22, 1537, fol. 229r.

57 Camesina, Urkundliche Beiträge, 63 no. XII: Item so haben die grossen jetzgewesen güssen die wuern unnd sennkh beim Saltz unnd Rotenthurn seer zerissen, allso das dieselben widerumben aufs paldist, sambt den wuern beim Täber gemacht werden muessen.

58 Camesina, Urkundliche Beiträge, 67 no. XV.

59 Camesina, Urkundliche Beiträge, 75 no. XXII.

60 Camesina, Urkundliche Beiträge, 76 f. no. XXIV: May17, 1562. Camesina, Urkundliche Beiträge, 78 no. XXV.

61 Camesina, Urkundliche Beiträge, 81 no. XXVIII.

62 NÖHA W 61/C/3/A, August 29, 1538, fol. 237r: So ist die stat an khainem ort dermassen uberhöhet als zu Sannd Tybold, und wo sich in khryegsleuffen der veind daselbst hin mit geschütz legern wurde, nit allain auf denen plätzen, unnd in denen gassen der stat, sonnder auch in der khunigclichen burgkh vor dem geschütz nyemannds sicher sein mugen.; also NÖLA, Ständische Akten, A VIII, Nr. 9: Oktober 11, 1593, fol. 24r/v: Zum andern ist aussen auf der Laimgrueben, vor dem purckhthor bey gmainer stat ziegelstadel ain sehr schedliche anhech fast wie ain perg, darauf leicht fünff oder sechs grosse stuckh [geschütz] khennen darauf der feindt gerechtß hinein in die purckh schiessen khöndt.

63 Mollo, “Carlo Theti,” fig. 17–18.

64 Biblioteca Ambrosiana di Milano, D 183 inf., f. 9r.

65 Camesina, Urkundliche Beiträge, no. V (1531), no. XV (1549), no. XXXVI (1576/77).

66 KA AFA, 1576 13/2 (incorrect 1577 13/2 in the index) fol. 46r–51v; Camesina, Urkundliche Beiträge, no. XXXVI, 88–96.

67 Opll, Krause and Sonnlechner, Wien als Festungsstadt, 314 f. Tables 2 and 3.

68 Opll, Krause and Sonnlechner, Wien als Festungsstadt, 93.

69 Archiv des Schottenstiftes, Chronik des Stiftes Schotten, 2. Abteilung, Bd. 1, (copy), 223.

70 Camesina, Urkundliche Beiträge, no. XXII, 75 f.

71 WStLA, Fotosammlung, Fotosammlung allgemein, A 463, without folio.

72 Wien Museum Inv.-Nr. MV 36442; dendrochronological sampling by Michael Grabner. It is likely that the outer rings were removed during the manufacture of the piles. Many thanks to Michaela Kronberger, Wien Museum, for this information.

73 Camesina, Urkundliche Beiträge, no. XXX, 83.

74 Perger, Straßen, 56 s. v. Große Gonzagabastei.

75 Eberle,”Wien als Festung,” 230.

76 KA HKR, 1569 Juni Nr. 144 Expedit; 1576/89 Carlo Theti presented his suggestions for fortifying Vienna.

77 KA HKR, 1569 Juni Nr. 144 Expedit, Attachment entitled: Die Insel zwischen Schlag- und altem Täber bruggen, abgewegen durch Otavio Waldegara 17. Decembris anno 1577.

78 The sources use the term “newe statt.”

79 KA AFA, 1577 (on the cover of the manuscript: “1576”) 13/2; Camesina, Urkundliche Beiträge, no. XXXVI, 88–96.

80 Camesina, Urkundliche Beiträge, 90.

81 Camesina, Urkundliche Beiträge, 90 f.


Figure 1. Nicolò Angielini (attributed): The Vienna Fortifications, c. 1570, with the objects mentioned in the text. (Photo by Österreichische Nationalbibliothek Cod. 8609 Han, Nr. 7.)


Figure 2. Reconstruction of the Viennese Danube c. 1570
(Reconstruction by Severin Hohensinner and Bernhard Lager)


Figure 3. The extraction edge of the Laimgrube with the brickworks in the center of the picture. Detail from the Trial of the Assyrian King Sennacherib by Hans Sebald Lautensack,
with a view of Vienna in the background, 1558/59

(Photo by © Wien Museum, Inv.-Nr. 31.041.)


Figure 4. Augustin Hirschvogel: Plan of Vienna, painted on a table top, 1549

(Photo by © Wien Museum, Inv. Nr. 31.022.)


Figure 5. Plan of the building site of the Piattaforma (left) and the adjacent curtain wall with cutwaters, copy by Albert Camesina, 1879. (Photo by WStLA, Kartographische Sammlung, Allgemeine Reihe, Pläne und Karten: Sammelbestand, P1.220/4)

Figure 6. Carlo Theti: Sketch of the Viennese fortress with the project of a citadel on the hill near St. Theobald close to the valley of St. Ulrich (valle die S.to Olderico)

(Photo by Biblioteca Ambrosiana di Milano, D 183 inf., f. 9r)


Figure 7. Wooden pile tipped with iron.
(Photo by © Wien Museum, Birgit und Peter Kainz, Inv. Nr. MV 36.442.)